A thin crowd surrounded the auctioneer’s table, but the men stood in loose clusters, and George, walking through them, noticed that the undesirable element was largely represented. There were a number of small farmers, attracted by curiosity, or perhaps a wish to buy; but these kept to themselves, and men from the settlement of no fixed profession who worked spasmodically at different tasks, and spent the rest of their time in the Sachem, were more plentiful. Besides these, there were some strangers, and George thought the appearance of several was far from prepossessing.
It was a glorious day. There was vigor in the warm breeze that swept the grassy waste; the sunshine that bathed the black loam where the green blades were springing up seemed filled with promise; but as the sale proceeded George became sensible of a vague compunction. The sight of the new wheat troubled him—Langside had laboriously sown that crop, which somebody else would reap. Watching the battered domestic utensils and furniture being carried out for sale had the same disturbing effect. Poor and comfortless as the shack was, it had, until rude hands had desecrated it, been a home. George felt that he was consenting to the ruin of a defenseless man, assisting to drive him forth, a wanderer and an outcast. He wondered how far the terrors of loneliness had urged Langside into his reckless courses—homesteaders scattered about the wide, empty spaces occasionally became insane—but with an effort he overcame the sense of pity.
Langside had slackly given way, and, choosing an evil part, had become a menace to the community; as Grant had said, he must go. This was unavoidable, and though the duty of getting rid of him was painful, it must be carried out. George was usually unsuspicious and of easy-going nature up to a certain point, but there was a vein of hardness in him.
Once or twice the auctioneer was interrupted by jeering cries, but he kept his temper and the sale went on, though George noticed that only a few strangers made any purchases. At length, when the small sundries had been cleared off, there was a curious silence as the land was put up. It was evident that the majority of those present had been warned not to bid.
The auctioneer made a little speech in praise of the property, and paused when it fell flat; then, while George wondered what understanding the creditors had arrived at with Grant, a brown-faced stranger strode forward.
“I’ve been advised to let this place alone,” he said. “I suppose you have a right to sell?”
“Yes, sir,” replied the auctioneer. “Come along, and look at my authority, if you want. It’s mortgaged property that has been foreclosed after the creditors had waited a long while for a settlement, and I may say that the interest demanded is under the present market rate. Everything’s quite regular; no injustice has been done. If you’re a purchaser, I’ll take your bid.”