“Do you happen to want,” I said to Henry, “an opera hat that doesn’t op? At least it only works on one side.”
“No,” said Henry.
“To any one who buys my opera hat for a large sum I am giving away four square yards of linoleum, a revolving book-case, two curtain rods, a pair of spring-grip dumb-bells, and an extremely patent mouse-trap.”
“No,” said Henry again.
“The mouse-trap,” I pleaded, “is unused. That is to say, no mouse has used it yet. My mouse-trap has never been blooded.”
“I don’t want it myself,” said Henry, “but I know a man who does.”
“Henry, you know everybody. For Heaven’s sake introduce me to your friend. Why does he particularly want a mouse-trap?”
“He doesn’t. He wants anything that’s old. Old clothes, old carpets, anything that’s old he’ll buy.”
He seemed to be exactly the man I wanted.
“Introduce me to your fellow clubman,” I said firmly.
That evening I wrote to Henry’s friend, Mr. Bennett. “Dear Sir,” I wrote, “if you would call upon me to-morrow I should like to show you some really old things, all genuine antiques. In particular I would call your attention to an old opera hat of exquisite workmanship and a mouse-trap of chaste and handsome design. I have also a few yards of Queen Anne linoleum of a circular pattern which I think will please you. My James the First spring-grip dumb-bells and Louis Quatorze curtain-rods are well known to connoisseurs. A genuine old cork bedroom suite, comprising one bath-mat, will also be included in the sale. Yours faithfully.”
On second thoughts I tore the letter up and sent Mr. Bennett a postcard asking him to favour the undersigned with a call at 10.30 prompt. And at 10.30 prompt he came.
I had expected to see a bearded patriarch with a hooked nose and three hats on his head, but Mr. Bennett turned out to be a very spruce gentleman, wearing (I was sorry to see) much better clothes than the opera hat I proposed to sell him. He became businesslike at once.
“Just tell me what you want to sell,” he said, whipping out a pocket-book, “and I’ll make a note of it. I take anything.”
I looked round my spacious apartment and wondered what to begin with.
“The revolving book-case,” I announced.
“I’m afraid there’s very little sale for revolving book-cases now,” he said, as he made a note of it.
“As a matter of fact,” I pointed out, “this one doesn’t revolve. It got stuck some years ago.”
He didn’t seem to think that this would increase the rush, but he made a note of it.
“Then the writing-desk.”
“The Georgian bureau. A copy of an old twentieth-century escritoire.”
“Walnut?” he said, tapping it.
“Possibly. The value of this Georgian writing-desk, however, lies not in the wood but in the literary associations.”
“Ah! My customers don’t bother much about that, but still–whose was it?”
“Mine,” I said with dignity, placing my hand in the breast pocket of my coat. “I have written many charming things at that desk. My ‘Ode to a Bell-push,’ my ‘Thoughts on Asia,’ my—-“
“Anything else in this room?” said Mr. Bennett. “Carpet, curtains—-“
“Nothing else,” I said coldly.
We went into the bedroom and, gazing on the linoleum, my enthusiasm returned to me.
“The linoleum,” I said, with a wave of the hand.
“Very much worn,” said Mr. Bennett.
I called his attention to the piece under the bed.
“Not under there,” I said. “I never walk on that piece. It’s as good as new.”
He made a note. “What else?” he said.
I showed him round the collection. He saw the Louis Quatorze curtain-rods, the cork bedroom suite, the Caesarian nail-brush (quite bald), the antique shaving-mirror with genuine crack–he saw it all. And then we went back into the other rooms and found some more things for him.
“Yes,” he said, consulting his note-book. “And now how would you like me to buy these?”
“At a large price,” I said. “If you have brought your cheque-book I’ll lend you a pen.”
“You want me to make you an offer? Otherwise I should sell them by auction for you, deducting ten per cent commission.”
“Not by auction,” I said impulsively. “I couldn’t bear to know how much, or rather how little, my Georgian bureau fetched. It was there, as I think I told you, that I wrote my Guide to the Round Pond. Give me an inclusive price for the lot, and never, never let me know the details.”
He named an inclusive price. It was something under a hundred and fifty pounds. I shouldn’t have minded that if it had only been a little over ten pounds. But it wasn’t.
“Right,” I agreed. “And, oh, I was nearly forgetting. There’s an old opera hat of exquisite workmanship, which—-“
“Ah, now, clothes had much better be sold by auction. Make a pile of all you don’t want and I’ll send round a sack for them. I have an auction sale every Wednesday.”
“Very well. Send round to-morrow. And you might–er–also send round a–er–cheque for–quite so. Well, then, good morning.”
When he had gone I went into my bedroom and made a pile of my opera hat. It didn’t look very impressive–hardly worth having a sack specially sent round for it. To keep it company I collected an assortment of clothes. It pained me to break up my wardrobe in this way, but I wanted the bidding for my opera hat to be brisk, and a few preliminary suits would warm the public up. Altogether it was a goodly pile when it was done. The opera hat perched on the top, half of it only at work.
. . . . .
To-day I received from Mr. Bennett a cheque, a catalogue, and an account. The catalogue was marked “Lots 172-179.” Somehow I felt that my opera hat would be Lot 176. I turned to it in the account.
“Lot 176–Six shillings.”
“It did well,” I said. “Perhaps in my heart of hearts I hoped for seven and sixpence, but six shillings–yes, it was a good hat.”
And then I turned to the catalogue.
“Lot 176–Frock-coat and vest, dress-coat and vest, ditto, pair of trousers and opera hat.”
“And opera hat.” Well, well. At least it had the position of honour at the end. My opera hat was starred.