McTeague HTML version

After his breakfast the following Monday morning, McTeague looked over the
appointments he had written down in the book-slate that hung against the
screen. His writing was immense, very clumsy, and very round, with huge, full-
bellied l's and h's. He saw that he had made an appointment at one o'clock for
Miss Baker, the retired dressmaker, a little old maid who had a tiny room a few
doors down the hall. It adjoined that of Old Grannis.
Quite an affair had arisen from this circumstance. Miss Baker and Old Grannis
were both over sixty, and yet it was current talk amongst the lodgers of the flat
that the two were in love with each other. Singularly enough, they were not even
acquaintances; never a word had passed between them. At intervals they met on
the stairway; he on his way to his little dog hospital, she returning from a bit of
marketing in the street. At such times they passed each other with averted eyes,
pretending a certain preoccupation, suddenly seized with a great
embarrassment, the timidity of a second childhood. He went on about his
business, disturbed and thoughtful. She hurried up to her tiny room, her curious
little false curls shaking with her agitation, the faintest suggestion of a flush
coming and going in her withered cheeks. The emotion of one of these chance
meetings remained with them during all the rest of the day.
Was it the first romance in the lives of each? Did Old Grannis ever remember a
certain face amongst those that he had known when he was young Grannis—the
face of some pale-haired girl, such as one sees in the old cathedral towns of
England? Did Miss Baker still treasure up in a seldom opened drawer or box
some faded daguerreotype, some strange old-fashioned likeness, with its curling
hair and high stock? It was impossible to say.
Maria Macapa, the Mexican woman who took care of the lodgers' rooms, had
been the first to call the flat's attention to the affair, spreading the news of it from
room to room, from floor to floor. Of late she had made a great discovery; all the
women folk of the flat were yet vibrant with it. Old Grannis came home from his
work at four o'clock, and between that time and six Miss Baker would sit in her
room, her hands idle in her lap, doing nothing, listening, waiting. Old Grannis did
the same, drawing his arm-chair near to the wall, knowing that Miss Baker was
upon the other side, conscious, perhaps, that she was thinking of him; and there
the two would sit through the hours of the afternoon, listening and waiting, they
did not know exactly for what, but near to each other, separated only by the thin
partition of their rooms. They had come to know each other's habits. Old Grannis
knew that at quarter of five precisely Miss Baker made a cup of tea over the oil
stove on the stand between the bureau and the window. Miss Baker felt
instinctively the exact moment when Old Grannis took down his little binding
apparatus from the second shelf of his clothes closet and began his favorite
occupation of binding pamphlets—pamphlets that he never read, for all that.