‘Eight thousand!’ shouted Margaret.
‘Nine,’ said Elizabeth without hesitation.
‘Ten thousand!’ bellowed Margaret.
Suddenly there was silence. Cornelius glanced across the room to see a smile of satisfaction cross Elizabeth’s face, having left her sister-in-law with a bill for ￡10,000.
Cornelius wanted to burst out laughing. The auction was turning out to be even more entertaining than he could have hoped.
‘There being no more bids, this delightful water-colour is sold to Miss Barrington for ￡10,000,’ said Mr Botts as he brought the hammer down with a thump. He smiled down at Margaret, as if she had made a wise investment.
‘The next lot,’ he continued, ‘is a portrait simply entitled Daniel, by an unknown artist. It is a well-executed work, and I was hoping to open the bidding at ￡100. Do I see a bid of one hundred?’
To Cornelius’s disappointment, no one in the room seemed to be showing any interest in this lot.
‘I am willing to consider a bid of ￡50 to get things started,’ said Mr Botts, ‘but I am unable to go any lower. Will anyone bid me ￡50?’
Cornelius glanced around the room, trying to work out from the expressions on their faces who had selected this item, and why they no longer wished to bid when the price was so reasonable.
‘Then I fear I will have to withdraw this lot as well.’
‘Does that mean I’ve got it?’ asked a voice from the back. Everyone looked round.
‘If you are willing to bid ￡50, madam,’ said Mr Botts, adjusting his spectacles, ‘the picture is yours.’
‘Yes please,’ said Pauline. Mr Botts smiled in her direction as he brought down the hammer. ‘Sold to the lady at the back of the room,’ he declared, ‘for ￡50.’
‘Now I move on to lot number four, a chess set of unknown provenance. What shall I say for this item? Can I start someone off with ￡100? Thank you, sir.’
Cornelius looked round to see who was bidding. ‘I have two hundred at the table. Can I say three hundred?’
‘I have a bid at the table of three fifty. Can I say four hundred?’
This time Timothy looked crestfallen, and Cornelius assumed the sum was beyond his limit. ‘Then I am going to have to withdraw this piece also and place it in this afternoon’s sale.’ The auctioneer stared at Timothy, but he didn’t even blink. ‘The item is withdrawn.’
‘And finally I turn to lot number five. A magnificent Louis XIV table, circa 1712, in almost mint condition. Its provenance can be traced back to its original owner, and it has been in the possession of Mr Barrington for the past eleven years. The full details are in your catalogue. I must warn you that there has been a lot of interest in this item, and I shall open the bidding at ￡50,000.’
Elizabeth immediately raised her catalogue above her head.
‘Thank you, madam. I have a bid at the table of sixty thousand. Do I see seventy?’ he asked, his eyes fixed on Elizabeth.
Her catalogue shot up again.
‘Thank you, madam. I have a bid at the table of eighty thousand. Do I see ninety?’ This time Elizabeth seemed to hesitate before raising her catalogue slowly.
‘I have a bid at the table of one hundred thousand. Do I see a hundred and ten?’
Everyone in the room was now looking towards Elizabeth, except Hugh, who, head down, was staring at the floor. He obviously wasn’t going to have any influence on the bidding. ‘If there are no further bids, I shall have to withdraw this lot and place it in the afternoon sale. Fair warning,’ declared Mr Botts. As he raised his hammer, Elizabeth’s catalogue suddenly shot up.
‘One hundred and ten thousand. Thank you, madam. Are there any more bids? Then I shall let this fine piece go for ￡110,000.’ He brought down his hammer and smiled at Elizabeth. ‘Congratulations, madam, it is indeed a magnificent example of the period.’ She smiled weakly back, a look of uncertainty on her face.
Cornelius turned round and winked at Frank, who remained impassively in his seat. He then rose from his place and made his way to the podium to thank Mr Botts for a job well done. As he turned to leave, he smiled at Margaret and Elizabeth, but neither acknowledged him, as they both seemed to be preoccupied. Hugh, head in hands, continued to stare down at the floor.
As Cornelius walked towards the back of the hall, he could see no sign of Timothy, and assumed that his nephew must have had to return to London. Cornelius was disappointed, as he had hoped the lad might join him for a pub lunch. After such a successful morning he felt a little celebrating was in order.
He had already decided that he wasn’t going to attend the afternoon sale, as he had no desire to witness his worldly goods coming under the hammer, even though he wouldn’t have room for most of them once he moved into a smaller house. Mr Botts had promised to call him the moment the sale was over and report how much the auction had raised.