'Now, then, Maria,' said Zerkow, his cracked, strained voice just rising above a whisper, hitching his chair closer to the table, 'now, then, my girl, let's have it all over again. Tell us about the gold plate--the service. Begin with, "There were over a hundred pieces and every one of them gold."'
I don' know what you're talking about, Zerkow,' answered Maria. 'There never was no gold plate, no gold service. I guess you must have dreamed it.'
Maria and the red-headed Polish Jew had been married about a month after the McTeague's picnic which had ended in such lamentable fashion. Zerkow had taken Maria home to his wretched hovel in the alley back of the flat, and the flat had been obliged to get another maid of all work. Time passed, a month, six months, a whole year went by. At length Maria gave birth to a child, a wretched, sickly child, with not even strength enough nor wits enough to cry. At the time of its birth Maria was out of her mind, and continued in a state of dementia for nearly ten days. She recovered just in time to make the arrangements for the baby's burial. Neither Zerkow nor Maria was much affected by either the birth or the death of this little child. Zerkow had welcomed it with pronounced disfavor, since it had a mouth to be fed and wants to be provided for. Maria was out of her head so much of the time that she could scarcely remember how it looked when alive. The child was a mere incident in their lives, a thing that had come undesired and had gone unregretted. It had not even a name; a strange, hybrid little being, come and gone within a fortnight's time, yet combining in its puny little body the blood of the Hebrew, the Pole, and the Spaniard.
But the birth of this child had peculiar consequences. Maria came out of her dementia, and in a few days the household settled itself again to its sordid régime and Maria went about her duties as usual. Then one evening,