The Auction

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From Woman's Home Companion Vol. XXXVI No. 10 (October, 1909)

There was a stiff breeze blowing from off the water, a breeze that stimulated and stung, and caused one to taste salt on the lips, for the river was a tidal one, an arm of the great salt sea, one of its strong members which encroached upon the land. The river was beautiful at Rector. It was broad, and on one side was a smooth canal with a ribbon of tow-path, and there was a bridge, which looked like one in an old steel-engraving at the Rector auction. The engraving was after an approved style of its time. It contained a river, a bridge, a castle, a group of trees, a boat with a fisherman, a lady walking upon the bank, and in the foreground a flowering bush entirely out of perspective.

There were a number of such old engravings at the auction, at Miss Minerva Rector's auction, as it was called, although Miss Minerva Rector, the last of her name and race, lay in her new grave in the churchyard, not a hundred yards from where the red auction-flag waved. That flapped bravely in the hurrying wind. It was a sheriff's sale. Miss Minerva had died very much in debt, both for her life and her death. The old estate was mortgaged to the limit, the interest had been unpaid for years, and the tax-bills ignored. Miss Minerva had lived in a house which did not belong to her, she had eaten food which did not belong to her, she had accepted service for which she could not pay, and all with an air of dignity and concession which puzzled people. She had at the last died with an air of dignity and concession to the laws of existence which seemed fairly patronizing. She had been conscious until the end, and a pious distant relative with reddened eyes had considered it her duty to inform Minerva of her desperate state, and Minerva had simply replied, “Very well.”

When the distant relative had further inquired if she would not like the minister to come and talk and pray with her, Minerva agitated her head negatively upon the pillow in a sad and annoyed way, and repeated that gesture, which seemed almost arrogant and unbelievable in the face of death, when she was asked if she had any last wishes to express. The distant relative, a cousin many times removed, by the name of Whitty, with a pretty young daughter who had a strong desire to own a beautiful old lace shawl in Minerva's possession, and who had begged her mother to make that inquiry concerning last wishes, went into the parlor, where a number of distant relatives and friends were assembled. They knew that Mrs. Whitty had told Miss Minerva of her approaching end, and they regarded her with solemn curiosity as she entered.

“How did she take it?” inquired a stout woman who had married Mrs. Whitty's brother.

“She didn't say much of anything.”

“Did she want to see Mr. Akers?”

Mrs. Whitty shook her head, and wiped her eyes with a nice white handkerchief kept carefully in its folds. Her daughter Emily, who wanted the lace shawl, came close and nudged her mother, then looked at her with sharp blue eyes. Mrs. Whitty shook her head. The girl pouted her pretty red lips crossly, and stepped back. Some of the people stood, most of them sat. Those who sat did so rather gingerly. Miss Minerva's magnificent old chairs, covered with ornate carving, were very unstable. In a few of them did people dare lean back, for fear of disaster.

A tall old grandfather's clock in the next room, the dining-room, ticked fervently and ponderously. A man who wished to bid in the clock at the auction which would follow Miss Minerva's decease whispered to a man who stood next him. They both looked at the clock, then went out into the dining-room and examined it. Then they looked closely over a superb old oak sideboard covered with intricate carving, but toppling at one corner, and with a jagged crack across its glass door.

After a while a tall woman, very dark and pretty, but with a nervous, sad cast of feature, came out of the bedroom. She was not weeping. Her handkerchief was not even in evidence. She was dressed very simply in black, but she had style.

“It is all over,” she said quietly to the people, and immediately there was a stir of agitation. Muffled sobs were heard. The whole room fluttered with white handkerchiefs. The woman who had made the announcement gazed at them with calm contempt. Then she spoke with an air of authority to two of the men, who immediately went out of the room and the house, and she herself returned to the death-chamber.

“She don't act as if she had a mite of feeling,” whispered the stout woman to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Whitty, who shook her head mournfully, and mopped her eyes still with the folded handkerchief. “Alice Drew never acts as if she felt anything,” she whispered back, “and she is relation to Minerva, too.”

“Yes, she is a cousin on her mother's side.”

“She never acted to me as if she felt it much when she and her husband separated and her home was broken up. She just went to nursing, as calm as a clock, and they say she never would take a cent from Jim, though he offered to give her twenty dollars a week.”

“Yes, I know that was so. She never acted as if she really felt anything about the Procter girl, either, though the split betwixt her and Jim was on account of her.”

“I wonder if there was anything in that?”

“I don't know. I always had my suspicions, though Jim never took a step to get a legal divorce, and the Procter girl went out West to live with her married sister.”

“She's home again.”

“Are you sure?”

“Saw her on the street this morning. She's as handsome as a picture.”

“Then perhaps —”

“Yes, perhaps now Jim will take some steps. Talking of clocks, Henry Storms has set his heart on Minerva's.”

“Amos Jones has got his eye on it, too.”

“I thought he had. Amos wants the sideboard, too.”

“Ezra Lane wants that old piano and that carved arm-chair.”

“As for me, I want that arm-chair, too, and I want one of the little ones.”

“For my part, I would like some of the chairs, and I would like that low sofa, too, but Emily has set her heart on that lace shawl, and I can't afford to buy anything else, unless things go for almost nothing.”

“You never can tell how things will go at an auction,” said the stout woman in quite a loud voice. “Now that table —” Then she hushed suddenly. “Here's the undertaker,” she murmured.

The two women went out into the dining-room as two men, followed by a woman, all bearing burdens of mysterious melancholy, entered.

That had been on a Thursday late in March, and the funeral had followed two days later, and now the red auction-flag waved over the door which had so lately borne its streamer of mourning. The rooms had been dismantled, carpets taken up, and articles arranged, singly or in lots, for sale. Everything was to go to pay the late Minerva Rector's debts. Some pictures still hung on the walls, the steel-engraving wherein the bridge figured, and a portrait of Minerva, being among them. The others stood propped against the walls. Minerva's portrait had been painted by an artist quite unknown, but of some skill; or else, as had frequently been the case when Minerva had been a girl, he had fallen a victim to her charms, and love had inspired him. It was a beautiful but strangely indifferent face which looked out from the canvas upon the demolition and desecration of her household gods, and upon all these people at their ease in the old Rector house, whose threshold many of them had not been thought good enough to cross in her lifetime.

After the auction had begun, that beautiful face, indifferent even to her own straits of life, seemed to follow with its large calm blue eyes the erratic movements about the room, the swaying of the crowd here and there after the loud-voiced auctioneer, the excitement of some, the sharp self-control of others. As the day wore on, everybody in Rector seemed to be present. There were sly-looking boys, whose faces caused men to feel for their wallets in the jostle; there were dogs; there were women dragging children; there were furniture-dealers, astute and smilingly alert; there were tender-hearted women in search of mementoes; there were avaricious women in search of bargains among the coarsest household implements; there were ladies who had an admiration for some of Minerva Rector's magnificent old pieces, and who viewed with appreciation the tragedy and pathos of the situation. It was just after Easter, and many of the ladies wore new and gaily-decorated hats, which made charming effects of color in the large, low room. One window was open, and also the front door, and the salt breeze came in.

One lady, charmingly attired in pale green, wearing a green hat trimmed with pale pink blossoms and a black plume, made a little grimace of horror, and spoke to her companion, another lady also charmingly dressed in different shades of mauve and wearing a toque trimmed with violets.

“How ghastly!” she said. “How unspeakably ghastly! There's the poor old thing's shabby old hat. I remember her in it.”

“It should not be allowed,” said the lady in mauve, who had a square jaw.

“I suppose it could not be helped,” said the woman in green, “if everything had to go.”

The lady in mauve said nothing, but she slid quietly through the throng, and seized upon the poor old black hat surmounting a pile of tinware, in which lot it was included.

A man standing on guard spoke rather doubtfully. “Please do not touch them things, lady,” he said.

But the lady utterly disregarded his words. The man had a feeling as if he were not, as this charming vision in mauve seemed to look haughtily through him. She tightened her grasp upon the poor feminine bit of head-gear, and marched away with it. Her friend in green, who had followed her, looked aghast. “Why, Anna,” she said faintly, “what —”

The lady in mauve made no reply, but went straight through the dining-room and the kitchen beyond, into the yard. In the rear of that yard, below a steep slope of bank, ran the river. The lady advanced rather perilously near the edge of the bank, and gave the hat a toss. The wind from the river tossed it back to her. She flung it again, with redoubled energy, and again that mysterious force tossed it back. Then she waited. She was a shrewd creature, and some of the best blood of the country flowed in her veins. She was in reality patrician, as were many people in Rector, and they were of the sort who bridle the elements. She waited for a lull in the strong breeze, and flung the hat again. This time it described a fluttering arc, like a crow in flight, and reached the river. Then it floated away, a black speck upon the brown ripples.

“There!” said the woman in mauve. “I have disposed of her hat, anyway. Why, it was sacrilege. I never cared for Miss Minerva, but I am a woman myself; and when it came to her poor old hat being sold at a public auction —” She set her mouth hard, tossed her head, and went back to the house, her friend following.

“I think you did just right, Anna,” said the woman in light green, “but I should not have dared.”

I dared,” said the woman in mauve. When she entered the parlor again, the man in charge of the little lots of nondescript articles eyed her rather apprehensively.

The auctioneer, towering above the crowd, held in one hand an empty canary-cage, in the other a china tea-pot, and held under one arm, like a bayonet, a worn-out broom. He swung the brass cage, which glittered in a ray of afternoon sun.

“Here is a fine lot,” said the auctioneer, who was an able man of his kind, and past master of good-natured facetiousness, of that quality which gets the better of one part of a company while the other is taken into confidence with a wink implying a mutual superiority and wisdom. “Here is a fine lot,” repeated the auctioneer. “Here you see combined, as it were, sentiment, domestic comfort and usefulness. In this handsome bird-cage (in which once trilled a feathered songster, and in which, if he is bought, as a very good one can be for a trifle, one may trill again) you see sentiment, the poetry of home. What, I ask you, gentlemen and ladies, is more poetical and more cheerful in a home than a nice cage like this, in perfect repair, with a fine canary-bird hopping about these perches (all here, not one missing), drinking water and pecking seeds out of these nice glass cups (not a crack in 'em), and then hopping to his perch again, and singing for joy that he has such a nice cage in such a nice home. For that matter, this cage without any bird is a nice thing to have. See how it shines in the sun. This cage hung in a south window over a table with a geranium on it, even if there isn't any canary, is enough to give an artistic touch to any home. It is enough to prove that the mistress of the home appreciates the true and the beautiful.

“Then look at this tea-pot. It is very old. It is much over a hundred years old, and is just as good as ever, with the exception of the knob on the lid being broken off, which does not injure it at all, simply goes to prove its antiquity. All of you who are accustomed to fine old china know without being told that it is almost impossible to secure a perfect piece. When the piece is perfect, all of you who know anything about old china at once begin to suspect something. You ask, ‘Is it old, or did it come from the ten-cent store?’ Now this tea-pot, ladies and gentlemen, is old, very old, and absolutely perfect except for the knob on the lid being gone, and for a slight break in the nose. It pours exactly as well, if anything better. There is not so much danger of the tea being spilled on a nice table-cloth, and every housekeeper knows how difficult tea-stains are to eradicate. This tea-pot is a masterpiece of the old Lowstuff ware. All of you who know about china know what the name Lowstuff means. This tea-pot represents domestic comfort and luxury. What is more refreshing than a cup of tea? And when made in such a fine old piece as this, how much better it tastes!

“Then this broom. It is slightly worn, but every housekeeper wants a worn broom for the porches and cellar or the barn. This would make a superexcellent barn broom. It simply can't be beat as a barn broom, and even as a kitchen broom it is still a fine article. Its being worn in the way it is makes it much easier to sweep out corners. Every good housekeeper knows how difficult it is to sweep out corners with a perfectly-stiff, new broom; besides, it injures the broom, and it is by economy in such matters that the road to wealth lies. Economy in the kitchen broom may lead to an automobile. Now, what am I offered for this fine lot? No ten-cent offer, let me say right here; I won't listen to it. We are not here to give away things like these, but to sell them at tremendous sacrifices. Now, what am I offered for this fine lot?”

There was utter silence. The auctioneer brandished the bird-cage, which caught the light and glistened as if its bars had been made of gold.

“Speak up,” ordered he, and a woman with thin lips and a rakish feather in her hat said, “Twenty-five cents.”

Then the auctioneer sneered a magnificent stage sneer and echoed her. “Twenty-five cents!” said he. “Twenty-five cents! A quarter of a dollar for this fine lot, worth at the very least five dollars. A quarter of a dollar! Who will make it fifty? Fifty — fifty — I am offered fifty. Who will make it seventy-five?”

“Seventy-five,” said the woman with the thin lips, and her pale blue eyes shot a cold gleam at a little dumpy woman in a thick black coat which creased by reason of tightness over her breast.

“Seventy-five!” roared the auctioneer. “I am offered seventy-five for this five-dollar lot. Who will make it one dollar?”

The little dumpy woman stood up and unbuttoned her tight coat. Her determined chin showed, sunken in innumerable folds in her lace ruche.

“One dollar,” said she, and looked at the thin-lipped woman.

“One dollar!” shouted the auctioneer, teetering with excitement and enthusiasm, and swinging the bird-cage frantically. “I am offered one dollar, only one dollar for this magnificent lot. Now see here, ladies and gentlemen, you know this sort of thing can't go on. You know you can't have things like these given away to you for only one dollar. Who will make it one dollar and a quarter?”

“One dollar and a quarter,” said the thin-lipped woman, and her pale blue eyes upon the dumpy woman were like lances.

When at last the lot was sold to her, she had paid four dollars and a quarter for it.

“What on earth is that woman thinking of?” Mrs. Whitty said to her sister-in-law. “That whole lot isn't worth fifty cents.”

The thin-lipped woman, returning from the auction-stand, laden with her purchases, heard her. She sat down with a defiant air, but inwardly she was horribly frightened. She had spent more than her husband could earn in a day and a half for that lot of things, but she had not been able to see the other woman get them, and in spite of her terror her breast swelled with a splendid triumph. She turned up her delicate nose when the dumpy woman secured for one dollar and a half the next lot, which consisted of a kitchen poker, two flat-irons and a very good wooden rocking-chair.

When these were knocked down to the dumpy woman, with an agonized protest from the auctioneer, Mrs. Whitty said to her sister-in-law, “Now that is a queer thing. That lot went for a dollar and a half, and the other for four and a quarter; and the first wasn't worth fifty cents, and this is worth a good deal more than that woman paid for it.”

“That is always the way at auctions. You never can tell,” replied the sister-in-law with an air of patronage.

The woman in mauve and the woman in light green sat back among others of their kind, and waited. They were faintly amused at the contest over these assortments of household debris, and talked among themselves of other matters. They were waiting for some of the magnificent old pieces of furniture to be put up, and also for the lace shawl which Mrs. Whitty's daughter Emily longed to possess.

“It is very old Brussels,” said a woman with a bird-of-paradise in her hat to the woman in pale green. “It would make a stunning gown draped over yellow.”

“I think it would look well draped over almost anything,” said the woman in mauve. Then she replied to an unspoken inquiry of the other:

“Yes, I may bid on it, but only to a certain amount. I always limit myself at affairs of this kind. It is the only thing to do, otherwise one loses one's head. If I can get the lace at a certain price I shall buy it, otherwise I shall let it go; and I am of the same mind with regard to one of those chairs.”

“I want that lace, too,” said the woman in pale green, “but I came without much in my purse. That is the only safe way for me. I do lose my head if I begin.”

“They are sure not to put up that lace or the chairs for an hour to come,” said the woman with the bird-of-paradise. “He has to work his way through all those cheap lots, and judging by the time he has taken already, it will be a long wait before he gets to the things we want to bid on. Let us go out and have a little run in my motor to Austin's greenhouses. He has some superb orchids. Ada saw them yesterday. We have ample time; besides, it is rather ghastly sitting here and waiting and seeing all those things wrangled for.”

So it happened that the woman in mauve with violets on her toque, and the woman in light green, and the woman with the bird-of-paradise in her hat, they being the three who might have changed between them the story of the white lace shawl, were gone when it was offered by the auctioneer. A tire of the motor burst, and they were delayed, and somehow the piece of rare old lace had been put by mistake among the furnishings of a servant's bedroom, and was put up to the accompaniment of a cheap wash-stand and dresser and an ignominious bedstead.

However, Emily Whitty saw at once when the auctioneer, all unconscious of its true worth, waved the ivory-white lace, its pattern of flowers and leaves floating over the crowd like a fairy web.

“Here is a nice old shawl,” remarked the auctioneer. Then a doubt seized him, and he rectified his statement.

“No, I made a mistake,” he said. “This ain't the shawl I had in mind. This is another. This ain't so very old. This is pretty new, bought at one of the best stores in New York City. A very handsome article, ladies. Just the thing to fling over your shoulders when you sit out on the pi-azza on a summer night. A nice strong shawl, and quite warm for its heft. Warm enough to keep out the damp night air. Save you from getting chilly. Now, I am not going to listen to any small offer for a shawl like this. You may as well understand it. You can't buy a shawl like this at any ten-cent store in the country. You would have to go to one of them first-class New York places for a shawl like this. This is an awful becoming shawl. An old lady can wear it and look suitable, or a young lady. Suppose a young lady is sitting on her pa's pi-azza with her best young man, and the night air is damp, and she is wearing a thin waist that you can see her neck and blue ribbon bows through. Well, then, this shawl is just the dandy to throw over her shoulders, and for her to look handsome in, and not catch cold. Now speak up. What am I offered for this elegant, useful summer shawl? Speak up!”

“Five dollars,” said a man's voice. The man was short of stature, although thick-set, and he was at the extreme left of the densely-packed crowd. There was a gasp when he said firmly, “Five dollars,” and the auctioneer smiled with satisfaction.

“That is something like,” said he. “Here is a man who knows the worth of things. Five dollars I am offered for this handsome shawl. Who will make it five and a quarter? Five and a quarter, who will make it five and a quarter?”

A woman, tall and dark and very pretty, in a plain black dress and a little black toque, standing at the right of the crowd, caught the auctioneer's sharply roving eyes, and motioned silently with her lips. He nodded.

“Five dollars and a quarter, five and a quarter I am offered,” he proclaimed. “Who will make it five and a half? Five and a half, who will make it five and a half?”

The dark woman glanced through a momentary opening in the crowd, and saw the man bidder distinctly. She also saw, rather near him, a beautiful girl dressed in sapphire blue, with a wonderful blue feather curling over the brim of her hat. She paled, and set her full sweet lips hard.

“Who will make it five fifty?” demanded the auctioneer.

“Five fifty,” said a woman's voice, Mrs. Whitty's. She stood with her daughter beside her, and was shaking with nervousness, but the daughter looked sharp and cold.

“Five fifty,” said the auctioneer. “Five fifty for this handsome article of ladies' apparel. What ails you all? Five dollars and fifty! Just go to one of them big New York stores and try to buy a shawl like this for five fifty, and see what they will say to you. Hah! The floor-walker would run you out of the store. Five fifty. Who will make it five seventy-five?”

“Five seventy-five,” said the man's voice.

Then the auctioneer looked again at the dark, pretty woman, Alice Drew, and said, “Five seventy-five is offered, five seventy-five. Who will make it six dollars?”

Alice Drew motioned silently, and the auctioneer shouted, “Six dollars! Six dollars! Who will make it six twenty-five?”

He looked at the man, who made a gesture of impatience with his broad shoulders. “Twenty dollars!” he said in a loud voice, and the auctioneer beamed.

“Twenty dollars is offered for this magnificent shawl!” he roared.

“That is something like. Now you are beginning to wake up. Twenty dollars I am offered. Who will make it twenty-five?”

Alice Drew motioned again with her lips, and the auctioneer shouted, “Twenty-five I am offered, twenty-five for this splendid shawl worth a hundred if it is worth anything. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I defy you to go into one of the first-class New York stores and buy a thing equal to this for strength and durability and handsomeness for less than a hundred. Twenty-five I am offered. Who will make it thirty?”

Again the man's broad shoulders shrugged with impatience. “Fifty,” he said bruskly.

“Now you're talking,” said the auctioneer. He looked at Alice Drew, who was deadly pale, and who had a horribly strained, desperate expression. She asked a question of the auctioneer so noiselessly that no man who had not trained his eyes to act like ears could have understood her. He shook his head, and he also motioned something which she understood more readily because she had been accustomed to use her eyes as ears among the feeble and spent along the way of life.

He said, “Cash down, lady,” and Alice Drew understood, although hardly anybody else did, and she went paler, but motioned again with her lips, and the auctioneer said promptly, “Fifty-one, fifty-one dollars I am offered. Who will make it fifty-two, fifty-three? Who will make it sixty? Who will make —”

“Seventy-five,” said the man.

“I am offered seventy-five,” said the auctioneer.

Emily Whitty nudged her mother violently, but Mrs. Whitty shook her head. “I can't pay as much as that. Your father would make an awful fuss,” she said. “You will have to go to a lace sale and get something cheap for your veil.”

Emily pouted. Her eyes reddened. She elbowed her way through the crowd to a seat. Her mother followed, and the two sat side by side, listening.

“It's no use,” whispered Mrs. Whitty in a conciliatory tone to Emily, and the girl looked crosser. “Just my luck,” she muttered. “But Mrs. Drew can't afford to pay as much as that. Has she gone crazy, mother?”

Mrs. Whitty leaned close to the girl and whispered. Emily stared.

“You don't mean it's Mr. Jim Drew — that it's her husband she's bidding against?” she said excitedly.

“Hush, don't speak so loud. He doesn't know who is bidding against him, but she knows who is bidding against her — trust Alice Drew! — and that's the Procter girl in blue behind him.”

“So it is Edna Procter. I didn't notice her before.”

“If Jim Drew is trying to bid in that lace shawl for Edna Procter, and he not divorced from Alice, he ought to be ashamed of himself,” whispered Mrs. Whitty.

“Oh, mother, do you suppose —”

Then the auctioneer's voice rang out like a trumpet. “Once, one hundred and twenty-five dollars, twice, one hundred and twenty-five dollars, third and last time, one hundred and twenty-five dollars, going, going, gone, to Mr. James Drew!” The contest was over.

An hour afterward Alice Drew sat alone in her room in Mrs. Jasper Green's boarding-house. It was a pretty room. Alice Drew could not live in a room that was not pretty. Instead of a bed, she had a couch covered with an old Indian shawl which had come to her from her grandmother. A screen stood before the wash-stand. The dresser was disguised by photographs and various devices, and did not seem like its true self. There was a pretty rug, and some flowers in pots. The room was small, but a little nest of daintiness.

Alice Drew sat beside the window and watched the people passing on the street below, and the bough of a maple beginning to be feathered, like its birds, with the approach of spring, but she saw nothing. The red spots which had come in her cheeks during the bidding had faded away. The strained look had gone from her mouth and forehead, but she looked crushed, spent, and so utterly weary that being crushed and spent did not, of a mercy, have their full significance for her.

She sat there, drooping, and did not hear the first knock at her door. She heard the second, and said, “Come in!” in a spiritless voice. She was trying to grasp the probability that she was needed for a case, and her mind was making a painful turn toward her always-packed bag, when the door opened and her husband entered. He carried over his arm the web of almost priceless old lace, crushed and trailing on the floor. He stepped on it as he came forward. He spoke as bruskly as he had done when bidding for the shawl.

“Here, Alice,” he said, “here is a present for you. I did not buy that lace you thought I did for Edna Procter. Harry White gave it to her. When you accused me of it I was too mad to deny it. Now it is time all this nonsense was over. I got home from California yesterday, and I was headed here when I saw Minerva Rector's auction was going on. I saw the red flag over the door, and I heard some women talking about the wonderful lace shawl that was going to be put up. Then I took it into my head to stop and get it for you. Here it is.”

Alice had risen, and she stood before him, trembling, her head drooping. Drew made an impatient movement toward her. He was an impatient man.

“Here, it is time all this nonsense about nothing at all was over,” he said. “Give me a kiss, Alice, and take your lace, and let's get right, straight back to our house and quit this.”

“Wait a minute, Jim,” said Alice. She found it difficult to go on.

“Well, what is it? Hurry, dear, Hannah and Jane have come back, and there's broiled chicken for supper. You see I felt pretty sure that when I got over my pig-headed obstinacy and told you what a fool you had been to doubt an old man like me, who has never had, since he married you, any other woman in his mind, that you wouldn't wait to come back where you belong, to your own home and your husband, and quit this sickening nursing and boarding.”

“I have got to tell you,” said Alice, “that I —”

“That you what? You don't mean to say that you have been starting for a divorce?”

“No; but this afternoon I — thought you were buying that shawl for her, and —”

“For whom? For Edna Procter?”

Alice nodded. “She was right behind you.”

“Was she? I didn't see her. Alice, you don't mean to say you were there, too?”

“Yes; I was bidding against you.”

Drew shouted with laughter. “Oh, it's the biggest joke yet,” he said. “I wonder I didn't recognize your voice, though.”

“I didn't speak aloud. I only motioned to the auctioneer.”

“And you made me run this rag of lace up to one hundred and twenty-five dollars!” Drew laughed again. “Well, it's worth it, I guess. Here, come on, Alice.”

“But, Jim, I have to pack up, and —”

“Nonsense! The chicken will be spoiled. To-morrow you and Hannah can come over here and pack up. Put your hat on and come along now.”

In a few moments Alice Drew and her husband were walking down the street. Drew carried the lace over his arm. Suddenly his wife gave a little cry of dismay.

“Oh, that beautiful lace is dragging every step you take, dear,” she said.

“Let it. I don't imagine it is worth much. I'll buy you more. What is lace?”

“Not much compared with other things, dear; but Jim, this is wonderful lace. Let me take it.”

Then the man and woman walked on under the tender budding spring boughs lashing in the salt wind, and the woman was enveloped in graceful swirls, which at times took wing-like shapes, of the fairy web of flower and leaf and whorl. And she folded the lace, in spite of the wind, as she moved on, smiling happily.