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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter IX. — A Sale by Auction

page 60

Chapter IX.
A Sale by Auction.

It does not often fall to my lot to do shopping— one reason being that my wife is fond of doing it herself, and another that I detest the occupation. It happened, however, a few mornings after our Mount Eden trip, that some mutton chops were required, and as I was going into the town, my wife asked me to purchase three or four. To avoid the possibility of forgetting my commission, I headed straight for the flashiest-looking butcher's shop in Queen Street, gave my order, and on receiving the chops handed half-a-crown to the shopman, who to my intense surprise returned me a two-shilling piece.

Four fine mutton chops for sixpence! Digest this information, my home readers, and then come out here if you like, and digest the three-halfpenny chops—they are every bit as good as English ones, and one-fifth of the money.

Strolling down Queen Street with my pur-page 61chases done up in a neat parcel, I was nearly knocked over by a man who suddenly rushed out of a doorway with a gigantic bell in his hand, which he commenced ringing violently. "What is the matter now?" thought I. "Can this be an opposition form of religion to the Salvation Army, in which the bell takes the place of the drum?" Determining to fathom the mystery of the man with the bell, I stationed myself as near to him as possible without running a risk of being rendered deaf for life, and watched events. Nobody appeared to take much notice of the performance, but I saw people from time to time entering the doorway from which the bellringer had emerged. "No doubt," I thought, "some kind of service is about to be held;" and I determined when the bell stopped to form one of the congregation. People were now flocking in pretty fast, and the bellman showed symptoms of fatigue, though he stuck to his work with all the ardour of a religious fanatic. At last the bell conquered the man, and entering the doorway I found myself in a large and rather dark room, along one side of which all sorts of articles of furniture were arranged. On a small raised platform with a rail in front, to which a desk was attached, stood a gentleman whom I imme-page 62diately saw was not a parson, but an auctioneer, for in his hand he carried his baton of office—a small ivory hammer. Round him were crowded about one hundred shabbily dressed persons, a large proportion of whom were Jews. Just as I entered the auctioneer rapped sharply with his mallet on the desk in front of him and spoke as follows:—

"Gentlemen, I have to-day to offer you some of the choicest articles of furniture that have ever come under my hammer, and I will but express the hope that you have brought with you plenty of money to buy with, and plenty of pluck to bid with, and proceed to business. Jim, move that chest of drawers forward, so that the gentlemen can see it. There, gentlemen, what do you say to that? a piece of furniture that would give a distinguished appearance to the meanest bedchamber—best cabinetmaker's work too. Shall we say five pounds for the chest of drawers? What, no bidders? Well, start it at what you like—say ten shillings for this magnificent piece of furniture—twelve shillings—fourteen shillings—one pound bid in two places—this remarkably handsome specimen of cabinetmaker's work going for one pound— twenty-five shillings bid," &c. &c., until it was page 63finally knocked down for fifty shillings. The next thing disposed of was a clock and then a sewing-machine was put up, which was just the thing I knew my wife wanted.

"Gentlemen," said the auctioneer, "the sewing-machine I now have to offer to you is the property of a widow lady in distressed circumstances. I will with your permission read a letter I received from her at the time the machine was forwarded to me, and I am confident that you will sympathise with this poor bereaved lady, who has not only had the misfortune to lose her husband, but is now, alas! about to lose her sewing-machine!" He then read the letter, the contents of which I have forgotten, though I recollect it stated that the machine was a "Wheeler and Wilson" in good order.

"Gentlemen," continued the auctioneer, "I am sure the letter I have just read must have excited feelings of compassion in each manly breast. Show it by bidding freely for the widow—or rather, I mean for the widow's sewing-machine. Shall we start it at a pound? What! no bid at a pound? Where are your bowels of compassion, gentlemen? Well, say ten shillings—ten shillings for a ‘Wheeler and Wilson' sewing-machine—fifteen shillings for page 64this splendid piece of mechanism—sixteen shillings offered—sixteen shillings for a beautiful widow's sewing-machine—seventeen shillings offered—eighteen shillings in two places for the widow—nineteen shillings—in perfect working order—one pound offered for this beautiful machine of a lone widow in good working order —one pound two and six offered—any advance on one pound two and six?"

"One pound five!" I shouted; and the second after down came the hammer, and the machine was my property. It was moved away by Jim into a little sideroom, and the auctioneer took down my name.

I went to inspect my purchase, and to my disgust found it would not move, and also discovered it was not a "Wheeler and Wilson" at all. Catching sight of Jim, who was no other than the performer on the bell, I said— "Look here, my man, this is not a ‘Wheeler and Wilson' machine at all, and it is all rusty and won't work!"

"Can't help it, sir," replied Jim. "When you buys at auctions, you buys for weal or woe!"

"Oh! the wheel's right enough, and there is no question about the whoa," I sarcastically page 65remarked, "for it won't move an inch; but I will not pay for it; it's not a ‘Wheeler and Wilson,' as the auctioneer stated!" and in a state of righteous indignation I strode out of the place, leaving my chops unwittingly behind me.

There are eight or nine of these rooms, or marts, in Queen Street, and the system of selling all sorts of things daily by auction gives a sort of Cheap Jack air to the thoroughfare. Surely, if this method of disposing of goods of all descriptions is necessary to the happiness of the good citizens of Auckland, some side street might be selected in which the business could be carried on, and the peace and dignity of the principal thoroughfare in the city left undisturbed.