“Yes. Don’t bother, my good fellow, it’s my fault, not yours. I’m the born fool. But heavens above! how am I to face this?” Then, recovering himself, he strolled up to the rostrum and said a few words to the auctioneer. Mr. Primrose nodded, and I heard him answer:
“Oh, that will be all right, sir, don’t bother. We can’t expect an account like this to be settled in a minute. A month hence will do.”
Then he went on with the sale.
Sir Alexander and Stephen
It was just at this moment that I saw standing by me a fine-looking, stout man with a square, grey beard and a handsome, but not very good-tempered face. He was looking about him as one does who finds himself in a place to which he is not accustomed.
“Perhaps you could tell me, sir,” he said to me, “whether a gentleman called Mr. Somers is in this room. I am rather short-sighted and there are a great many people.”
“Yes,” I answered, “he has just bought the wonderful orchid called ‘Odontoglossum Pavo.’ That is what they are all talking about.”
“Oh, has he? Has he indeed? And pray what did he pay for the article?”
“A huge sum,” I answered. “I thought it was two thousand three hundred shillings, but it appears it was £2,300.”
The handsome, elderly gentleman grew very red in the face, so red that I thought he was going to have a fit. For a few moments he breathed heavily.
“A rival collector,” I thought to myself, and went on with the story which, it occurred to me, might interest him.
“You see, the young gentleman was called away to an interview with his father. I heard him instruct his gardener, a man named Woodden, to buy the plant at any price.”
“At any price! Indeed. Very interesting; continue, sir.”
“Well, the gardener bought it, that’s all, after tremendous competition. Look, there he is packing it up. Whether his master meant him to go as far as he did I rather doubt. But here he comes. If you know him——”
The youthful Mr. Somers, looking a little pale and distrait, strolled up apparently to speak to me; his hands were in his pockets and an unlighted cigar was in his mouth. His eyes fell upon the elderly gentleman, a sight that caused him to shape his lips as though to whistle and drop the cigar.
“Hullo, father,” he said in his pleasant voice. “I got your message and have been looking for you, but never thought that I should find you here. Orchids aren’t much in your line, are they?”
“Didn’t you, indeed!” replied his parent in a choked voice. “No, I haven’t much use for—this stinking rubbish,” and he waved his umbrella at the beautiful flowers. “But it seems that you have, Stephen. This little gentlemen here tells me you have just bought a very fine specimen.”
“I must apologize,” I broke in, addressing Mr. Somers. “I had not the slightest idea that this—big gentleman,” here the son smiled faintly, “was your intimate relation.”