A SHOCK TO MR. WADDINGTON
Punctually at nine o’clock on the following morning, Alfred Burton, after a night spent in a very unsatisfactory lodging-house, hung up his gray Homburg on the peg consecrated to the support of his discarded silk hat, and prepared to plunge into his work. The office-boy, who had been stricken dumb at his senior’s appearance, recovered himself at last sufficiently for speech.
“My eye!” he exclaimed. “Whose clothes have you been stealing? What have you been up to, eh? Committing a burglary or a murder?”
Burton shook his head.
“Nothing of the sort,” he replied pleasantly. “The fact is I came to the conclusion that my late style of dress, as you yourself somewhat eloquently pointed out yesterday, was unbecoming.”
The boy seemed a little dazed.
“You look half way between a toff and an artist!” he declared. “What’s it all about, anyway? Have you gone crazy?”
“I don’t think so,” Burton replied. “I rather think I have come to my senses. Have you got those last furniture accounts?”
“No use starting on that job,” Clarkson informed him, genially. “The guvnor wants you down at the salesrooms, you’ve got to clerk for him.”
Burton looked very blank indeed. A flood of unpleasant recollections assailed him. He had lied a good deal in the letting of houses, but he had lied more still in the auction room. And to-day’s sale! He knew all about it! He knew a great deal more than under the circumstances it was wise for him to know!
“I quite forgot,” he said slowly, “that there was a sale to-day. I don’t suppose Mr. Waddington would let you take my place, Clarkson?”
“Not on your life!” the boy replied. “I’ve got to stay here and boss the show. You’d better hurry along, too. It’s Thursday morning and you know the people come in early. Lord, what a guy you look!”
Very slowly and very reluctantly Burton made his way through the gloomy warehouse and into the salesrooms, which were approached from the street by a separate entrance. He knew exactly what was before him and he realized that it must be the end. Mr. Waddington, who had not yet mounted the rostrum, saw him come in, stared at him for several moments in his gray clothes and Homburg hat, and turned away to spit upon the floor. A woman with a catalogue in her hand—evidently an intending purchaser—gripped Burton by the arm.
“I say, mister, you’re the auctioneer’s clerk, aren’t you?”
“I am,” he admitted.
“About that h’oil painting, now—the one of Gladstone. My old man’s fair dotty on Gladstone and it’s his birthday to-morrow. If it’s all right, I thought I might make him a present. It says in the catalogue ‘Artist unknown.’ I suppose, as it’s a real oil painting, it’s worth a bit, isn’t it?”
“It is not an oil painting at all,” Burton said quietly.