“I can live on just as I did before,” was again the mental cry of his wrung heart.
How changed were all things now, for the certainty that Alice never would be his had cast a pall over everything, and even the autumnal sunshine streaming through the window seemed hateful to him. Involuntarily his mind wandered to the sale and to Rocket, perhaps at that very moment upon the block.
“If I could have kept him, it would have been some consolation,” he sighed, just as the sound of hoofs dashing up to the door met his ear.
It was Claib, and just as Hugh was wondering at his headlong haste, he burst into the room, exclaiming:
“Oh, Mas’r Hugh, ’tain’t no use now. He’d done sold, Rocket is. I hearn him knocked down, and then I comed to tell you, an’ he looked so handsome, too,—caperin’ like a kitten. They done made me show him off, for he wouldn’t come for nobody else, but the minit he fotched a sight of dis chile, he flung ’em right and left. I fairly cried to see how he went on.”
There was no color now in Hugh’s face, and his voice trembled as he asked:
“Who bought him?”
“Harney, in course, bought him for five-fifty. I tells you they runs him up, somebody did, and once, when he stood at four hundred and fifty, and I thought the auction was going to say ‘Gone,’ I bids myself.”
“You!” and Hugh stared blankly at him.
“I know it wan’t manners, but it came out ’fore I thought, and Harney, he hits me a cuff, and tells me to hush my jaw. He got paid, though, for jes’ then a voice I hadn’t hearn afore, a wee voice like a girl’s, calls out five hundred, and ole Harney turn black as tar. ‘Who’s that?’ he said, pushin’ inter the crowd, and like a mad dog yelled out five-fifty, and then he set to cussin’ who ‘twas biddin’ ag’in him. I hearn them ’round me say, ‘That fetches it. Rocket’s a goner,’ when I flung the halter in Harney’s ugly face, and came off home to tell you. Poor Mas’r, you is gwine to faint,” and the well-meaning, but rather impudent Claib, sprang forward in time to catch and hold his young master, who otherwise might have fallen to the floor.
Hugh had borne much that day. The sudden hope that Alice might be won, followed so soon by the certainty that she could not, had shaken his nerves and tried his strength cruelly, while the story Claib had told unmanned him entirely, and this it was which made him grow so cold and faint, reeling in his chair, and leaning gladly for support against the sturdy Claib, who led him to the bed, and then went in quest of Adah.
There was a crowd of people out that day to attend the sale of Colonel Tiffton’s household effects. Even fair ladies, too, came in their carriages, holding high their aristocratic skirts as they threaded their way through the rooms where piles of carpeting and furniture of various kinds lay awaiting the shrill voice and hammer of the auctioneer, a portly little man, who felt more for the family than his appearance would indicate.