Part 7 out of 8
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
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
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
"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
"But listen here, Trina, I tell you I am starving,
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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 he 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
"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
"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
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
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
The clerk raised a shoulder and put the concertina on an
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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 canyons 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, canyons 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,
Here and there at long distances upon the canyon 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
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
"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 canyon, 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 Canyon, 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 canyon 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
"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
"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
"How long sence you mine?"
"Oh, year or two."
"Show your hends." McTeague exhibited his hard, callused
"When ken you go to work? I want a chuck-tender on der
"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
"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
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
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
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 canyon, 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,
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.
"Well," said one of the deputies, as he backed the horse
into the shafts of the buggy in which the pursuers had
driven over from the Hill, "we've about as good as got him.
It isn't hard to follow a man who carries a bird cage with
him wherever he goes."
McTeague crossed the mountains on foot the Friday and
Saturday of that week, going over through Emigrant Gap,
following the line of the Overland railroad. He reached
Reno Monday night. By degrees a vague plan of action
outlined itself in the dentist's mind.
"Mexico," he muttered to himself. "Mexico, that's the
place. They'll watch the coast and they'll watch the Eastern
trains, but they won't think of Mexico."
The sense of pursuit which had harassed him during the last
week of his stay at the Big Dipper mine had worn off, and he
believed himself to be very cunning.
"I'm pretty far ahead now, I guess," he said. At Reno he
boarded a south-bound freight on the line of the Carson and
Colorado railroad, paying for a passage in the caboose.
"Freights don' run on schedule time," he muttered, "and a
conductor on a passenger train makes it his business to
study faces. I'll stay with this train as far as it goes."
The freight worked slowly southward, through western
Nevada, the country becoming hourly more and more desolate
and abandoned. After leaving Walker Lake the sage-brush
country began, and the freight rolled heavily over tracks
that threw off visible layers of heat. At times it stopped
whole half days on sidings or by water tanks, and the
engineer and fireman came back to the caboose and played
poker with the conductor and train crew. The dentist sat
apart, behind the stove, smoking pipe after pipe of cheap
tobacco. Sometimes he joined in the poker games. He had
learned poker when a boy at the mine, and after a few deals
his knowledge returned to him; but for the most part he was
taciturn and unsociable, and rarely spoke to the others
unless spoken to first. The crew recognized the type, and
the impression gained ground among them that he had "done
for" a livery-stable keeper at Truckee and was trying to get
down into Arizona.
McTeague heard two brakemen discussing him one night as they
stood outside by the halted train. "The livery-stable
keeper called him a bastard; that's what Picachos told me,"
one of them remarked, "and started to draw his gun; an' this
fellar did for him with a hayfork. He's a horse doctor,
this chap is, and the livery-stable keeper had got the law
on him so's he couldn't practise any more, an' he was sore
Near a place called Queen's the train reentered California,
and McTeague observed with relief that the line of track
which had hitherto held westward curved sharply to the south
again. The train was unmolested; occasionally the crew
fought with a gang of tramps who attempted to ride the brake
beams, and once in the northern part of Inyo County, while
they were halted at a water tank, an immense Indian buck,
blanketed to the ground, approached McTeague as he stood on
the roadbed stretching his legs, and without a word
presented to him a filthy, crumpled letter. The letter was
to the effect that the buck Big Jim was a good Indian and
deserving of charity; the signature was illegible. The
dentist stared at the letter, returned it to the buck, and
regained the train just as it started. Neither had spoken;
the buck did not move from his position, and fully five
minutes afterward, when the slow-moving freight was
miles away, the dentist looked back and saw him still
standing motionless between the rails, a forlorn and
solitary point of red, lost in the immensity of the
surrounding white blur of the desert.
At length the mountains began again, rising up on either
side of the track; vast, naked hills of white sand and red
rock, spotted with blue shadows. Here and there a patch of
green was spread like a gay table-cloth over the sand. All
at once Mount Whitney leaped over the horizon. Independence
was reached and passed; the freight, nearly emptied by now,
and much shortened, rolled along the shores of Owen Lake.
At a place called Keeler it stopped definitely. It was the
terminus of the road.
The town of Keeler was a one-street town, not unlike Iowa
Hill--the post-office, the bar and hotel, the Odd Fellows'
Hall, and the livery stable being the principal buildings.
"Where to now?" muttered McTeague to himself as he sat on
the edge of the bed in his room in the hotel. He hung the
canary in the window, filled its little bathtub, and watched
it take its bath with enormous satisfaction. "Where to
now?" he muttered again. "This is as far as the railroad
goes, an' it won' do for me to stay in a town yet a while;
no, it won' do. I got to clear out. Where to? That's the
word, where to? I'll go down to supper now"--He went on
whispering his thoughts aloud, so that they would take more
concrete shape in his mind--"I'll go down to supper now, an'
then I'll hang aroun' the bar this evening till I get the
lay of this land. Maybe this is fruit country, though it
looks more like a cattle country. Maybe it's a mining
country. If it's a mining country," he continued, puckering
his heavy eyebrows, "if it's a mining country, an' the mines
are far enough off the roads, maybe I'd better get to the
mines an' lay quiet for a month before I try to get any
He washed the cinders and dust of a week's railroading from
his face and hair, put on a fresh pair of boots, and went
down to supper. The dining-room was of the invariable type
of the smaller interior towns of California. There was but
one table, covered with oilcloth; rows of benches
answered for chairs; a railroad map, a chromo with a gilt
frame protected by mosquito netting, hung on the walls,
together with a yellowed photograph of the proprietor in
Masonic regalia. Two waitresses whom the guests--all men--
called by their first names, came and went with large trays.
Through the windows outside McTeague observed a great number
of saddle horses tied to trees and fences. Each one of
these horses had a riata on the pommel of the saddle. He
sat down to the table, eating his thick hot soup, watching
his neighbors covertly, listening to everything that was
said. It did not take him long to gather that the country
to the east and south of Keeler was a cattle country.
Not far off, across a range of hills, was the Panamint
Valley, where the big cattle ranges were. Every now and
then this name was tossed to and fro across the table in the
flow of conversation--"Over in the Panamint." "Just going
down for a rodeo in the Panamint." "Panamint brands." "Has
a range down in the Panamint." Then by and by the remark,
"Hoh, yes, Gold Gulch, they're down to good pay there.
That's on the other side of the Panamint Range. Peters came
in yesterday and told me."
McTeague turned to the speaker.
"Is that a gravel mine?" he asked.
"No, no, quartz."
"I'm a miner; that's why I asked."
"Well I've mined some too. I had a hole in the ground
meself, but she was silver; and when the skunks at
Washington lowered the price of silver, where was I?
"I was looking for a job."
"Well, it's mostly cattle down here in the Panamint, but
since the strike over at Gold Gulch some of the boys have
gone prospecting. There's gold in them damn Panamint
Mountains. If you can find a good long 'contact' of country
rocks you ain't far from it. There's a couple of fellars
from Redlands has located four claims around Gold Gulch.
They got a vein eighteen inches wide, an' Peters says
you can trace it for more'n a thousand feet. Were you
thinking of prospecting over there?"
"Well, well, I don' know, I don' know."
"Well, I'm going over to the other side of the range day
after t'morrow after some ponies of mine, an' I'm going to
have a look around. You say you've been a miner?"
"If you're going over that way, you might come along and see
if we can't find a contact, or copper sulphurets, or
something. Even if we don't find color we may find silver-
bearing galena." Then, after a pause, "Let's see, I didn't
catch your name."
"Huh? My name's Carter," answered McTeague, promptly. Why
he should change his name again the dentist could not say.
"Carter" came to his mind at once, and he answered without
reflecting that he had registered as "Burlington" when he
had arrived at the hotel.
"Well, my name's Cribbens," answered the other. The two
shook hands solemnly.
"You're about finished?" continued Cribbens, pushing back.
"Le's go out in the bar an' have a drink on it."
"Sure, sure," said the dentist.
The two sat up late that night in a corner of the barroom
discussing the probability of finding gold in the Panamint
hills. It soon became evident that they held differing
theories. McTeague clung to the old prospector's idea that
there was no way of telling where gold was until you
actually saw it. Cribbens had evidently read a good many
books upon the subject, and had already prospected in
something of a scientific manner.
"Shucks!" he exclaimed. "Gi' me a long distinct contact
between sedimentary and igneous rocks, an' I'll sink a shaft
without ever SEEING 'color.'"
The dentist put his huge chin in the air. "Gold is where
you find it," he returned, doggedly.
"Well, it's my idea as how pardners ought to work along
different lines," said Cribbens. He tucked the corners of
his mustache into his mouth and sucked the tobacco juice
from them. For a moment he was thoughtful, then he blew
out his mustache abruptly, and exclaimed:
"Say, Carter, le's make a go of this. You got a little cash
I suppose--fifty dollars or so?"
"Huh ? Yes--I--I--"
"Well, I got about fifty. We'll go pardners on the
proposition, an' we'll dally 'round the range yonder an' see
what we can see. What do you say?"
"Sure, sure," answered the dentist.
"Well, it's a go then, hey?"
"That's the word."
"Well, le's have a drink on it."
They drank with profound gravity.
They fitted out the next day at the general merchandise
store of Keeler--picks, shovels, prospectors' hammers, a
couple of cradles, pans, bacon, flour, coffee, and the like,
and they bought a burro on which to pack their kit.
"Say, by jingo, you ain't got a horse," suddenly exclaimed
Cribbens as they came out of the store. "You can't get
around this country without a pony of some kind."
Cribbens already owned and rode a buckskin cayuse that had
to be knocked in the head and stunned before it could be
saddled. "I got an extry saddle an' a headstall at the
hotel that you can use," he said, "but you'll have to get a
In the end the dentist bought a mule at the livery stable
for forty dollars. It turned out to be a good bargain,
however, for the mule was a good traveller and seemed
actually to fatten on sage-brush and potato parings. When
the actual transaction took place, McTeague had been obliged
to get the money to pay for the mule out of the canvas sack.
Cribbens was with him at the time, and as the dentist
unrolled his blankets and disclosed the sack, whistled in
"An' me asking you if you had fifty dollars!" he exclaimed.
"You carry your mine right around with you, don't you?"
"Huh, I guess so," muttered the dentist. "I--I just sold a
claim I had up in El Dorado County," he added.
At five o'clock on a magnificent May morning the
"pardners" jogged out of Keeler, driving the burro before
them. Cribbens rode his cayuse, McTeague following in his
rear on the mule.
"Say," remarked Cribbens, "why in thunder don't you leave
that fool canary behind at the hotel? It's going to be in
your way all the time, an' it will sure die. Better break
its neck an' chuck it."
"No, no," insisted the dentist. "I've had it too long. I'll
take it with me."
"Well, that's the craziest idea I ever heard of," remarked
Cribbens, "to take a canary along prospecting. Why not kid
gloves, and be done with it?"
They travelled leisurely to the southeast during the day,
following a well-beaten cattle road, and that evening camped
on a spur of some hills at the head of the Panamint Valley
where there was a spring. The next day they crossed the
"That's a smart looking valley," observed the dentist.
"NOW you're talking straight talk," returned Cribbens,
sucking his mustache. The valley was beautiful, wide,
level, and very green. Everywhere were herds of cattle,
scarcely less wild than deer. Once or twice cowboys passed
them on the road, big-boned fellows, picturesque in their
broad hats, hairy trousers, jingling spurs, and revolver
belts, surprisingly like the pictures McTeague remembered to
have seen. Everyone of them knew Cribbens, and almost
invariably joshed him on his venture.
"Say, Crib, ye'd best take a wagon train with ye to bring
your dust back."
Cribbens resented their humor, and after they had passed,
chewed fiercely on his mustache.
"I'd like to make a strike, b'God! if it was only to get
the laugh on them joshers."
By noon they were climbing the eastern slope of the Panamint
Range. Long since they had abandoned the road; vegetation
ceased; not a tree was in sight. They followed faint cattle
trails that led from one water hole to another. By degrees
these water holes grew dryer and dryer, and at three
o'clock Cribbens halted and filled their canteens.
"There ain't any TOO much water on the other side," he
"It's pretty hot," muttered the dentist, wiping his
streaming forehead with the back of his hand.
"Huh!" snorted the other more grimly than ever. The
motionless air was like the mouth of a furnace. Cribbens's
pony lathered and panted. McTeague's mule began to droop
his long ears. Only the little burro plodded resolutely on,
picking the trail where McTeague could see but trackless
sand and stunted sage. Towards evening Cribbens, who was in
the lead, drew rein on the summit of the hills.
Behind them was the beautiful green Panamint Valley, but
before and below them for miles and miles, as far as the eye
could reach, a flat, white desert, empty even of sage-brush,
unrolled toward the horizon. In the immediate foreground a
broken system of arroyos, and little canyons tumbled down to
meet it. To the north faint blue hills shouldered
themselves above the horizon.
"Well," observed Cribbens, "we're on the top of the Panamint
Range now. It's along this eastern slope, right below us
here, that we're going to prospect. Gold Gulch"--he pointed
with the butt of his quirt--"is about eighteen or nineteen
miles along here to the north of us. Those hills way over
yonder to the northeast are the Telescope hills."
"What do you call the desert out yonder?" McTeague's eyes
wandered over the illimitable stretch of alkali that
stretched out forever and forever to the east, to the north,
and to the south.
"That," said Cribbens, "that's Death Valley."
There was a long pause. The horses panted irregularly, the
sweat dripping from their heaving bellies. Cribbens and the
dentist sat motionless in their saddles, looking out over
that abominable desolation, silent, troubled.
"God!" ejaculated Cribbens at length, under his breath, with
a shake of his head. Then he seemed to rouse himself.
"Well," he remarked, "first thing we got to do now is to
This was a long and difficult task. They descended
into one little canyon after another, followed the course of
numberless arroyos, and even dug where there seemed
indications of moisture, all to no purpose. But at length
McTeague's mule put his nose in the air and blew once or
twice through his nostrils.
"Smells it, the son of a gun!" exclaimed Cribbens. The
dentist let the animal have his head, and in a few minutes
he had brought them to the bed of a tiny canyon where a thin
stream of brackish water filtered over a ledge of rocks.
"We'll camp here," observed Cribbens, "but we can't turn the
horses loose. We'll have to picket 'em with the lariats. I
saw some loco-weed back here a piece, and if they get to
eating that, they'll sure go plum crazy. The burro won't
eat it, but I wouldn't trust the others."
A new life began for McTeague. After breakfast the
"pardners" separated, going in opposite directions along the
slope of the range, examining rocks, picking and chipping at
ledges and bowlders, looking for signs, prospecting.
McTeague went up into the little canyons where the streams
had cut through the bed rock, searching for veins of quartz,
breaking out this quartz when he had found it, pulverizing
and panning it. Cribbens hunted for "contacts," closely
examining country rocks and out-crops, continually on the
lookout for spots where sedimentary and igneous rock came
One day, after a week of prospecting, they met unexpectedly
on the slope of an arroyo. It was late in the afternoon.
"Hello, pardner," exclaimed Cribbens as he came down to
where McTeague was bending over his pan. "What luck?"
The dentist emptied his pan and straightened up. "Nothing,
nothing. You struck anything?"
"Not a trace. Guess we might as well be moving towards
camp." They returned together, Cribbens telling the dentist
of a group of antelope he had seen.
"We might lay off to-morrow, an' see if we can plug a couple
of them fellers. Antelope steak would go pretty well after
beans an' bacon an' coffee week in an' week out."
McTeague was answering, when Cribbens interrupted him
with an exclamation of profound disgust. "I thought we were
the first to prospect along in here, an' now look at that.
Don't it make you sick?"
He pointed out evidences of an abandoned prospector's camp
just before them--charred ashes, empty tin cans, one or two
gold-miner's pans, and a broken pick. "Don't that make you
sick?" muttered Cribbens, sucking his mustache furiously.
"To think of us mushheads going over ground that's been
covered already! Say, pardner, we'll dig out of here to-
morrow. I've been thinking, anyhow, we'd better move to the
south; that water of ours is pretty low."
"Yes, yes, I guess so," assented the dentist. "There ain't
any gold here."
"Yes, there is," protested Cribbens doggedly; "there's gold
all through these hills, if we could only strike it. I tell
you what, pardner, I got a place in mind where I'll bet no
one ain't prospected--least not very many. There don't very
many care to try an' get to it. It's over on the other side
of Death Valley. It's called Gold Mountain, an' there's only
one mine been located there, an' it's paying like a nitrate
bed. There ain't many people in that country, because it's
all hell to get into. First place, you got to cross Death
Valley and strike the Armagosa Range fur off to the south.
Well, no one ain't stuck on crossing the Valley, not if they
can help it. But we could work down the Panamint some
hundred or so miles, maybe two hundred, an' fetch around by
the Armagosa River, way to the south'erd. We could prospect
on the way. But I guess the Armagosa'd be dried up at this
season. Anyhow," he concluded, "we'll move camp to the
south to-morrow. We got to get new feed an' water for the
horses. We'll see if we can knock over a couple of antelope
to-morrow, and then we'll scoot."
"I ain't got a gun," said the dentist; "not even a revolver.
"Wait a second," said Cribbens, pausing in his scramble down
the side of one of the smaller gulches. "Here's some slate
here; I ain't seen no slate around here yet. Let's see
where it goes to."
McTeague followed him along the side of the gulch. Cribbens
went on ahead, muttering to himself from time to time:
"Runs right along here, even enough, and here's water too.
Didn't know this stream was here; pretty near dry, though.
Here's the slate again. See where it runs, pardner?"
"Look at it up there ahead," said McTeague. "It runs right
up over the back of this hill."
"That's right," assented Cribbens. "Hi!" he shouted
suddenly, "HERE'S A 'CONTACT,' and here it is again, and
there, and yonder. Oh, look at it, will you? That's grano-
diorite on slate. Couldn't want it any more distinct than
that. GOD! if we could only find the quartz between the
"Well, there it is," exclaimed McTeague. "Look on ahead
there; ain't that quartz?"
"You're shouting right out loud," vociferated Cribbens,
looking where McTeague was pointing. His face went suddenly
pale. He turned to the dentist, his eyes wide.
"By God, pardner," he exclaimed, breathlessly. "By God--"
he broke off abruptly.
"That's what you been looking for, ain't it?" asked the
"LOOKING for! LOOKING for!" Cribbens checked
himself . "That's SLATE all right, and that's grano-
diorite, I know"--he bent down and examined the rock--
"and here's the quartz between 'em; there can't be no
mistake about that. Gi' me that hammer," he cried,
excitedly. "Come on, git to work. Jab into the quartz with
your pick; git out some chunks of it." Cribbens went down on
his hands and knees, attacking the quartz vein furiously.
The dentist followed his example, swinging his pick with
enormous force, splintering the rocks at every stroke.
Cribbens was talking to himself in his excitement.
"Got you THIS time, you son of a gun! By God! I guess
we got you THIS time, at last. Looks like it, anyhow.
GET a move on, pardner. There ain't anybody 'round, is
there? Hey?" Without looking, he drew his revolver and
threw it to the dentist. "Take the gun an' look around,
pardner. If you see any son of a gun ANYWHERE, PLUG
him. This yere's OUR claim. I guess we got it THIS
tide, pardner. Come on." He gathered up the chunks of
quartz he had broken out, and put them in his hat and
started towards their camp. The two went along with great
strides, hurrying as fast as they could over the uneven
"I don' know," exclaimed Cribbens, breathlessly, "I don'
want to say too much. Maybe we're fooled. Lord, that damn
camp's a long ways off. Oh, I ain't goin' to fool along
this way. Come on, pardner." He broke into a run.
McTeague followed at a lumbering gallop. Over the scorched,
parched ground, stumbling and tripping over sage-brush and
sharp-pointed rocks, under the palpitating heat of the
desert sun, they ran and scrambled, carrying the quartz
lumps in their hats.
"See any 'COLOR' in it, pardner?" gasped Cribbens. "I
can't, can you? 'Twouldn't be visible nohow, I guess.
Hurry up. Lord, we ain't ever going to get to that camp."
Finally they arrived. Cribbens dumped the quartz fragments
into a pan.
"You pestle her, pardner, an' I'll fix the scales."
McTeague ground the lumps to fine dust in the iron mortar
while Cribbens set up the tiny scales and got out the
"spoons" from their outfit.
"That's fine enough," Cribbens exclaimed, impatiently. "Now
we'll spoon her. Gi' me the water."
Cribbens scooped up a spoonful of the fine white powder and
began to spoon it carefully. The two were on their hands
and knees upon the ground, their heads close together, still
panting with excitement and the exertion of their run.
"Can't do it," exclaimed Cribbens, sitting back on his
heels, "hand shakes so. YOU take it, pardner. Careful,
McTeague took the horn spoon and began rocking it gently in
his huge fingers, sluicing the water over the edge a little
at a time, each movement washing away a little more of the
powdered quartz. The two watched it with the intensest
"Don't see it yet; don't see it yet," whispered Cribbens,
chewing his mustache. "LEETLE faster, pardner.
That's the ticket. Careful, steady, now; leetle more,
leetle more. Don't see color yet, do you?"
The quartz sediment dwindled by degrees as McTeague spooned
it steadily. Then at last a thin streak of a foreign
substance began to show just along the edge. It was yellow.
Neither spoke. Cribbens dug his nails into the sand, and
ground his mustache between his teeth. The yellow streak
broadened as the quartz sediment washed away. Cribbens
"We got it, pardner. That's gold."
McTeague washed the last of the white quartz dust away, and
let the water trickle after it. A pinch of gold, fine as
flour, was left in the bottom of the spoon.
"There you are," he said. The two looked at each other.
Then Cribbens rose into the air with a great leap and a yell
that could have been heard for half a mile.
"Yee-e-ow! We GOT it, we struck it. Pardner, we got
it. Out of sight. We're millionaires." He snatched up his
revolver and fired it with inconceivable rapidity. "PUT
it there, old man," he shouted, gripping McTeague's palm.
"That's gold, all right," muttered McTeague, studying the
contents of the spoon.
"You bet your great-grandma's Cochin-China Chessy cat it's
gold," shouted Cribbens. "Here, now, we got a lot to do.
We got to stake her out an' put up the location notice.
We'll take our full acreage, you bet. You--we haven't
weighed this yet. Where's the scales?" He weighed the pinch
of gold with shaking hands. "Two grains," he cried.
"That'll run five dollars to the ton. Rich, it's rich; it's
the richest kind of pay, pardner. We're millionaires. Why
don't you say something? Why don't you get excited? Why
don't you run around an' do something?"
"Huh!" said McTeague, rolling his eyes. "Huh! I know, I
know, we've struck it pretty rich."
"Come on," exclaimed Cribbens, jumping up again. "We'll
stake her out an' put up the location notice. Lord, suppose
anyone should have come on her while we've been away." He
reloaded his revolver deliberately. "We'll drop
HIM all right, if there's anyone fooling round there; I'll
tell you those right now. Bring the rifle, pardner, an' if
you see anyone, PLUG him, an' ask him what he wants
They hurried back to where they had made their discovery.
"To think," exclaimed Cribbens, as he drove the first stake,
"to think those other mushheads had their camp within
gunshot of her and never located her. Guess they didn't
know the meaning of a 'contact.' Oh, I knew I was solid on
They staked out their claim, and Cribbens put up the notice
of location. It was dark before they were through.
Cribbens broke off some more chunks of quarts in the vein.
"I'll spoon this too, just for the fun of it, when I get
home," he explained, as they tramped back to the camp.
"Well," said the dentist, "we got the laugh on those
"Have we?" shouted Cribbens. "HAVE we? Just wait and
see the rush for this place when we tell 'em about it down
in Keeler. Say, what'll we call her?"
"I don' know, I don' know."
"We might call her the 'Last Chance.' 'Twas our last
chance, wasn't it? We'd 'a' gone antelope shooting
tomorrow, and the next day we'd 'a'--say, what you stopping
for?" he added, interrupting himself. "What's up?"
The dentist had paused abruptly on the crest of a canyon.
Cribbens, looking back, saw him standing motionless in his
"What's up?" asked Cribbens a second time.
McTeague slowly turned his head and looked over one
shoulder, then over the other. Suddenly he wheeled sharply
about, cocking the Winchester and tossing it to his
shoulder. Cribbens ran back to his side, whipping out his
"What is it?" he cried. "See anybody?" He peered on ahead
through the gathering twilight.
"No, didn't hear anything."
"What is it then? What's up?"
"I don' know, I don' know," muttered the dentist, lowering
the rifle. "There was something."
"Something--didn't you notice?"
"I don' know. Something--something or other."
"Who? What? Notice what? What did you see?"
The dentist let down the hammer of the rifle.
"I guess it wasn't anything," he said rather foolishly.
"What d'you think you saw--anybody on the claim?"
"I didn't see anything. I didn't hear anything either. I
had an idea, that's all; came all of a sudden, like that.
Something, I don' know what."
"I guess you just imagined something. There ain't anybody
within twenty miles of us, I guess."
"Yes, I guess so, just imagined it, that's the word."
Half an hour later they had the fire going. McTeague was
frying strips of bacon over the coals, and Cribbens was
still chattering and exclaiming over their great strike.
All at once McTeague put down the frying-pan.
"What's that?" he growled.
"Hey? What's what?" exclaimed Cribbens, getting up.
"Didn't you notice something?"
"Off there." The dentist made a vague gesture toward the
eastern horizon. "Didn't you hear something--I mean see
"What's the matter with you, pardner?"
"Nothing. I guess I just imagined it."
But it was not imagination. Until midnight the partners lay
broad awake, rolled in their blankets under the open sky,
talking and discussing and making plans. At last Cribbens
rolled over on his side and slept. The dentist could not
What! It was warning him again, that strange sixth sense,
that obscure brute instinct. It was aroused again and
clamoring to be obeyed. Here, in these desolate barren
hills, twenty miles from the nearest human being, it stirred
and woke and rowelled him to be moving on. It had goaded
him to flight from the Big Dipper mine, and he had obeyed.
But now it was different; now he had suddenly become rich;
he had lighted on a treasure--a treasure far more valuable
than the Big Dipper mine itself. How was he to leave that?
He could not move on now. He turned about in his blankets.
No, he would not move on. Perhaps it was his fancy, after
all. He saw nothing, heard nothing. The emptiness of
primeval desolation stretched from him leagues and leagues
upon either hand. The gigantic silence of the night lay
close over everything, like a muffling Titanic palm. Of what
was he suspicious? In that treeless waste an object could be
seen at half a day's journey distant. In that vast silence
the click of a pebble was as audible as a pistol-shot. And
yet there was nothing, nothing.
The dentist settled himself in his blankets and tried to
sleep. In five minutes he was sitting up, staring into the
blue-gray shimmer of the moonlight, straining his ears,
watching and listening intently. Nothing was in sight. The
browned and broken flanks of the Panamint hills lay quiet
and familiar under the moon. The burro moved its head with a
clinking of its bell; and McTeagues mule, dozing on three
legs, changed its weight to another foot, with a long
breath. Everything fell silent again.
"What is it?" muttered the dentist. "If I could only see
something, hear something."
He threw off the blankets, and, rising, climbed to the
summit of the nearest hill and looked back in the direction
in which he and Cribbens had travelled a fortnight before.
For half an hour he waited, watching and listening in vain.
But as he returned to camp, and prepared to roll his
blankets about him, the strange impulse rose in him again
abruptly, never so strong, never so insistent. It seemed as
though he were bitted and ridden; as if some unseen hand
were turning him toward the east; some unseen heel spurring
him to precipitate and instant flight.
Flight from what? "No," he muttered under his breath. "Go
now and leave the claim, and leave a fortune! What a fool
I'd be, when I can't see anything or hear anything. To
leave a fortune! No, I won't. No, by God!" He drew
Cribbens's Winchester toward him and slipped a cartridge
into the magazine.
"No," he growled. "Whatever happens, I'm going to stay. If
anybody comes--" He depressed the lever of the rifle, and
sent the cartridge clashing into the breech.
"I ain't going to sleep," he muttered under his mustache.
"I can't sleep; I'll watch." He rose a second time,
clambered to the nearest hilltop and sat down, drawing the
blanket around him, and laying the Winchester across his
knees. The hours passed. The dentist sat on the hilltop a
motionless, crouching figure, inky black against the pale
blur of the sky. By and by the edge of the eastern horizon
began to grow blacker and more distinct in out-line. The
dawn was coming. Once more McTeague felt the mysterious
intuition of approaching danger; an unseen hand seemed
reining his head eastward; a spur was in his flanks that
seemed to urge him to hurry, hurry, hurry. The influence
grew stronger with every moment. The dentist set his great
jaws together and held his ground.
"No," he growled between his set teeth. "No, I'll stay."
He made a long circuit around the camp, even going as far as
the first stake of the new claim, his Winchester cocked, his
ears pricked, his eyes alert. There was nothing; yet as
plainly as though it were shouted at the very nape of his
neck he felt an enemy. It was not fear. McTeague was not
"If I could only SEE something--somebody," he muttered,
as he held the cocked rifle ready, "I--I'd show him."
He returned to camp. Cribbens was snoring. The burro had
come down to the stream for its morning drink. The mule was
awake and browsing. McTeague stood irresolutely by the cold
ashes of the camp-fire, looking from side to side with all
the suspicion and wariness of a tracked stag. Stronger and
stronger grew the strange impulse. It seemed to him that on
the next instant he MUST perforce wheel sharply eastward
and rush away headlong in a clumsy, lumbering gallop. He
fought against it with all the ferocious obstinacy of his
simple brute nature.
"Go, and leave the mine? Go and leave a million
dollars? No, NO, I won't go. No, I'll stay. Ah," he
exclaimed, under his breath, with a shake of his huge head,
like an exasperated and harassed brute, "ah, show yourself,
will you?" He brought the rifle to his shoulder and covered
point after point along the range of hills to the west.
"Come on, show yourself. Come on a little, all of you. I
ain't afraid of you; but don't skulk this way. You ain't
going to drive me away from my mine. I'm going to stay."
An hour passed. Then two. The stars winked out, and the
dawn whitened. The air became warmer. The whole east,
clean of clouds, flamed opalescent from horizon to zenith,
crimson at the base, where the earth blackened against it;
at the top fading from pink to pale yellow, to green, to
light blue, to the turquoise iridescence of the desert sky.
The long, thin shadows of the early hours drew backward like
receding serpents, then suddenly the sun looked over the
shoulder of the world, and it was day.
At that moment McTeague was already eight miles away from
the camp, going steadily eastward. He was descending the
lowest spurs of the Panamint hills, following an old and
faint cattle trail. Before him he drove his mule, laden
with blankets, provisions for six days, Cribben's rifle, and
a canteen full of water. Securely bound to the pommel of
the saddle was the canvas sack with its precious five
thousand dollars, all in twenty-dollar gold pieces. But
strange enough in that horrid waste of sand and sage was the
object that McTeague himself persistently carried--the
canary in its cage, about which he had carefully wrapped a
couple of old flour-bags.
At about five o'clock that morning McTeague had crossed
several trails which seemed to be converging, and, guessing
that they led to a water hole, had followed one of them and
had brought up at a sort of small sundried sink which
nevertheless contained a little water at the bottom. He had
watered the mule here, refilled the canteen, and drank deep
himself. He had also dampened the old flour-sacks around
the bird cage to protect the little canary as far as
possible from the heat that he knew would increase now with
every hour. He had made ready to go forward again, but
had paused irresolute again, hesitating for the last time.
"I'm a fool," he growled, scowling back at the range behind
him. "I'm a fool. What's the matter with me? I'm just
walking right away from a million dollars. I know it's
there. No, by God!" he exclaimed, savagely, "I ain't going
to do it. I'm going back. I can't leave a mine like that."
He had wheeled the mule about, and had started to return on
his tracks, grinding his teeth fiercely, inclining his head
forward as though butting against a wind that would beat him
back. "Go on, go on," he cried, sometimes addressing the
mule, sometimes himself. "Go on, go back, go back. I
WILL go back." It was as though he were climbing a hill
that grew steeper with every stride. The strange impelling
instinct fought his advance yard by yard. By degrees the
dentist's steps grew slower; he stopped, went forward again
cautiously, almost feeling his way, like someone approaching
a pit in the darkness. He stopped again, hesitating,
gnashing his teeth, clinching his fists with blind fury.
Suddenly he turned the mule about, and once more set his
face to the eastward.
"I can't," he cried aloud to the desert; "I can't, I can't.
It's stronger than I am. I CAN'T go back. Hurry now,
hurry, hurry, hurry."
He hastened on furtively, his head and shoulders bent. At
times one could almost say he crouched as he pushed forward
with long strides; now and then he even looked over his
shoulder. Sweat rolled from him, he lost his hat, and the
matted mane of thick yellow hair swept over his forehead and
shaded his small, twinkling eyes. At times, with a vague,
nearly automatic gesture, he reached his hand forward, the
fingers prehensile, and directed towards the horizon, as if
he would clutch it and draw it nearer; and at intervals he
muttered, "Hurry, hurry, hurry on, hurry on." For now at
last McTeague was afraid.
His plans were uncertain. He remembered what Cribbens had
said about the Armagosa Mountains in the country on the
other side of Death Valley. It was all hell to get into
that country, Cribbens had said, and not many men went
there, because of the terrible valley of alkali that
barred the way, a horrible vast sink of white sand and salt
below even the sea level, the dry bed, no doubt, of some
prehistoric lake. But McTeague resolved to make a circuit
of the valley, keeping to the south, until he should strike
the Armagosa River. He would make a circuit of the valley
and come up on the other side. He would get into that
country around Gold Mountain in the Armagosa hills, barred
off from the world by the leagues of the red-hot alkali of
Death Valley. "They" would hardly reach him there. He
would stay at Gold Mountain two or three months, and then
work his way down into Mexico.
McTeague tramped steadily forward, still descending the
lower irregularities of the Panamint Range. By nine o'clock
the slope flattened out abruptly; the hills were behind him;
before him, to the east, all was level. He had reached the
region where even the sand and sage-brush begin to dwindle,
giving place to white, powdered alkali. The trails were
numerous, but old and faint; and they had been made by
cattle, not by men. They led in all directions but one--
north, south, and west; but not one, however faint, struck
out towards the valley.