The humours of the auction-room deserve to be dealt with more fully than is in my power to treat them. Though an auctioneer's fun is sometimes a little forced, its aim being to keep his visitors in a good temper with him—for he knows that every time that he knocks something down to one person he hurts the feelings of the runner-up—still, now and again, something occurs to call for a witty comment, and occasionally a ludicrous incident may brighten up the monotonous reiteration of slowly increasing sums of money. I have heard that long ago most lords of the rostrum were what used to be called “characters,” and got on the friendliest terms with the people on the floor. But now I fear that there is no time for such amenities, though I heard one of the profession say, announcing a new “lot”—“Hallo, what have we here? 'Lot 67—Adams Bed.' Ladies and gentlemen, there's a genuine antiquity for you—Adam's Bed! I shouldn't wonder if the quilt was worked by Eve herself, though I believe she was better at aprons.”

The auctioneer as a rule, however, hurries from lot to lot without wasting time referring to the charm of any one in particular. I cannot understand how they avoid doing so sometimes when a beautiful work of art is brought to the front.

But in the old days I believe that now and again a trick was resorted to with a view to arouse the interest of possible purchasers in the business of the day. I know of such a little comedy being played with a good deal of spirited action in an auction-room in a large townin the Midlands. An Irish dealer was in the habit of sending round from time to time as much stuff as a large furniture van would hold, to be offered for sale by auction. Of course he placed a reserve on every article, and if this figure was not reached in one town, he packed up the thing, to give it a chance in the next; so that within a few weeks he managed to get rid of a large number of things at quite remunerative prices. It so happened, however, that he wanted money badly when he reached the town where he began his operations, and he made a confidant of the auctioneer, who promised to do his best in regard to the goods. The articles were consequently displayed in the rooms, and a considerable number of people assembled before the auctioneer mounted the rostrum. The bidding was, however, very spiritless, and the first dozen lots were knocked down to imaginary buyers at imaginary figures; but just when the thirteenth lot was exhibited there appeared at the farther end of the room a rather excited figure.

“Stop the sale,” he cried. “I'm not going to stand passively by while you give my goods away. I don't mind a reasonable sacrifice, but I'm not going to submit to such a massacre as has been going on here up to the present. Stop the sale!”

“Look you here, Mr. O'Shaughnessy,” said the auctioneer. “Massacre or no massacre, I received instructions from you to sell your stuff without reserve, and sell it I will, whatever you may say.”

“You'll do nothing of the sort, I tell you,” cried the Irishman. “Come down from that reading-desk and don't continue to make a fool of me. I'm not going to see my things thrown away. You know what they are worth as well as I do, and yet you knock them down for a quarter their value!”

“Now, my good man, if you don't get out of this room I'll have to take stronger measures with you,” said the auctioneer. “I know that the stuff is all that you say it is; but that's nothing to me: the highest bidder will get the best of it, whether he bids to half the value or a quarter the value for that matter. You are making a fool of yourself, Mr. O'Shaughnessy, but you won't make a fool of me. I'm here to sell, and sell I shall. Now sit down or leave the premises.”

“I'll not sit down. I tell you I'll not——”

“Porter,” cried the auctioneer, “turn that gentleman out, and if he won't go quietly call a policeman. You hear?”

A couple of stalwart porters approached the vendor, saying soothing words; but he refused to move, and they had to force him to the door. They did so, however, as tenderly as possible; though he kept on shouting, as he went reluctantly backward step by step, that the auctioneer was in a conspiracy to ruin him, allowing his goods to be taken away for nothing. At last he was in the street and the door was closed. “Ladies and gentlemen,” said the auctioneer, “I must apologise for this scene. Such a thing never happened in my mart before, and I hope it will never happen again. But I know my position, and I've no intention of breaking faith with the public, whatever that man may do or say. I hope you'll excuse him; he is really the best judge of antiques I ever met, but when he gets a drop of drink there's no holding him in. Now, gentlemen, he'll not disturb us again, and with your leave I'll proceed with the sale. I'll do my duty by you, and I'll do my duty by him, whether he has insulted me or not. He maybe an excitable Irishman, but that's no reason why we shouldn't do our best for him. Fair play, ladies and gentlemen, fair play to everybody. We must not allow our prejudices to blind us. You know as well as I do that the stuff is the finest that has ever come to this town, though the vendor would be safer in the hands of the police than prowling about as he has been. Now where were we?—ah, Lot 13—'Chippendale mirror, carved wood, gilt.' There's a work of art for you. Where did he get hold of such a thing, anyway? What shall we say for it?”

The thing started at a figure actually above the reserve price that Mr. O'Shaughnessy had placed upon it, and the bidding went on with a rush. The next lot—two ribbon-carved mahogany arm-chairs—seemed to be badly wanted by some one. They were knocked down at a figure twenty-five percent, beyond the reserve. So it was with everything else in the collection. Never had there been a more successful sale in the same rooms.

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So, at least, the auctioneer confessed to the vendor as they dined together that evening, and the auctioneer was in private life a truthful man, though not always so rigid in the rostrum.

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