Shortly after noon on a sale day, the habitual customers of Messrs. Protheroe and Morris begin to assemble in Cheapside. On tables of roughest plank round the auction-rooms there, are neatly ranged the various lots; bulbs and sticks of every shape, big and little, withered or green, dull or shining, with a brown leaf here and there, or a mass of roots dry as last year’s bracken. No promise do they suggest of the brilliant colours and strange forms buried in embryo within their uncouth bulk. On a cross table stand some dozens of “established” plants in pots and baskets, which the owners would like to part with. Their growths of this year are verdant, but the old bulbs look almost as sapless as those new arrivals. Very few are in flower just now—July and August are a time of pause betwixt the glories of the Spring and the milder effulgence of Autumn. Some great Dendrobes—D. Dalhousianum—are bursting into untimely bloom, betraying to the initiated that their “establishment” is little more than a phrase. Those garlands of bud were conceived, so to speak, in Indian forests, have lain dormant through the long voyage, and began to show a few days since when restored to a congenial atmosphere. All our interest concentrates in the unlovely things along the wall.
The habitual attendants at an auction-room are always somewhat of a family party, but, as a rule, an ugly one. It is quite different with the regular group of orchid-buyers. No black sheep there. A dispute is the rarest of events, and when it happens everybody takes for granted that the cause is a misunderstanding. The professional growers are men of wealth, the amateurs men of standing at least. All know each other, and a cheerful familiarity rules. We have a duke in person frequently, who compares notes and asks a hint from the authorities around; some clergymen; gentry of every rank; the recognized agents of great cultivators, and, of course, the representatives of the large trading firms. So narrow even yet is the circle of orchidaceans that almost all the faces at a sale are recognized, and if one wish to learn the names, somebody present can nearly always supply them. There is reason to hope that this will not be the case much longer. As the mysteries and superstitions environing the orchid are dispersed, our small and select throng of buyers will be swamped, no doubt; and if a certain pleasing feature of the business be lost, all who love the flower and their fellow-men alike will cheerfully submit.
The talk is of orchids mostly, as these gentlemen stroll along the tables, lifting a root and scrutinizing it with practised glance that measures its vital strength in a second. But nurserymen take advantage of the gathering to show any curious or striking flower they chance to have at the moment. Mr. Bull’s representative goes round, showing to one and another the contents of a little box—a lovely bloom of Aristolochia elegans, figured in dark red on white ground like a sublime cretonne—and a new variety of Impatiens; he distributes the latter presently, and gentlemen adorn their coats with the pale crimson flower.