It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his
dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductors' coffee-joint on Polk Street.
He had a thick gray soup; heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate; two
kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of strong butter and sugar.
On his way back to his office, one block above, he stopped at Joe Frenna's
saloon and bought a pitcher of steam beer. It was his habit to leave the pitcher
there on his way to dinner.
Once in his office, or, as he called it on his signboard, "Dental Parlors," he took
off his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed his little stove
full of coke, lay back in his operating chair at the bay window, reading the paper,
drinking his beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food digested;
crop-full, stupid, and warm. By and by, gorged with steam beer, and overcome by
the heat of the room, the cheap tobacco, and the effects of his heavy meal, he
dropped off to sleep. Late in the afternoon his canary bird, in its gilt cage just
over his head, began to sing. He woke slowly, finished the rest of his beer—very
flat and stale by this time—and taking down his concertina from the bookcase,
where in week days it kept the company of seven volumes of "Allen's Practical
Dentist," played upon it some half-dozen very mournful airs.
McTeague looked forward to these Sunday afternoons as a period of relaxation
and enjoyment. He invariably spent them in the same fashion. These were his
only pleasures—to eat, to smoke, to sleep, and to play upon his concertina.
The six lugubrious airs that he knew, always carried him back to the time when
he was a car-boy at the Big Dipper Mine in Placer County, ten years before. He
remembered the years he had spent there trundling the heavy cars of ore in and
out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For thirteen days of each
fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other
Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol.
McTeague remembered his mother, too, who, with the help of the Chinaman,
cooked for forty miners. She was an overworked drudge, fiery and energetic for
all that, filled with the one idea of having her son rise in life and enter a
profession. The chance had come at last when the father died, corroded with
alcohol, collapsing in a few hours. Two or three years later a travelling dentist
visited the mine and put up his tent near the bunk-house. He was more or less of
a charlatan, but he fired Mrs. McTeague's ambition, and young McTeague went
away with him to learn his profession. He had learnt it after a fashion, mostly by
watching the charlatan operate. He had read many of the necessary books, but
he was too hopelessly stupid to get much benefit from them.