Accordingly, when a dozen fine horses had been knocked down at good prices, and Lady Clare's turn came, no one came forward to inspect her, and no one could be found to make a bid.
"Well, well, gentlemen," cried the auctioneer, "here we have a beautiful thoroughbred mare, the favorite mount of Her Royal Highness the Princess, and not a bid do I hear. She's a beauty, gentlemen, sired by the famous Potiphar who won the Epsom Handicap and no end of minor stakes. Take a look at her, gentlemen! Did you ever see a horse before that was raven black from nose to tail? I reckon you never did. But such a horse is Lady Clare. The man who can find a single white hair on her can have her for a gift. Come forward, gentlemen, come forward. Who will start her--say at five hundred?"
A derisive laugh ran through the crowd, and a voice was heard to cry, "Fifty."
"Fifty!" repeated the auctioneer, in a deeply grieved and injured tone; "fifty did you say, sir? Fifty? Did I hear rightly? I hope, for the sake of the honor of this fair city, that my ears deceived me."
Here came a long and impressive pause, during which the auctioneer, suddenly abandoning his dramatic manner, chatted familiarly with a gentleman who stood near him. The only one in the crowd whom he had impressed with the fact that the honor of the city was at stake in this sale was Erik Carstens. He had happily discovered a young and rich lieutenant of his father's company, and was trying to persuade him to bid in the mare for him.
"But, my dear boy," Lieutenant Thicker exclaimed, "what do you suppose the captain will say to me if I aid and abet his son in defying the paternal authority?"
"Oh, you needn't bother about that," Erik rejoined eagerly. "If father was at home, I believe he would allow me to buy this mare.
But I am a minor yet, and the auctioneer would not accept my bid.