Return to Writing Main Page

Return to Home Page



Contact Jack


An interest in short stories began at the Mildred Reid Writer's Colony in New Hampshire aroun 1950. This one is from that period.


Bidding had been brisk all morning and dollar signs danced cagily in Cyrus Pratt’s shrewd eyes. He knew that the more competitive the bidding, the more his ten per-cent commission. Almost as important to his practical brain was his desire to show the widow Hastey what a mistake she’d made years ago giving him up for a soft-hearted man like Jim.

It was two years since Jim Hastey had passed away and Cyrus was helping Harriet dispose of the entire contents of her old house. Now that her son was dead, too, and she was alone, Harriet had decided to move to a smaller place. If he could sell her belongings at a high enough price, Cyrus believed he might be able to impress her enough so that she’d forget her soft-hearted ideals and consider marrying a practical man with a business mind.

He had just disposed of an antique ladder-backed chair for seventeen dollars, and was feeling quite proud of his efforts - and the one-seventy commission. He looked over the crowd below him on the lawn. The sleepy little New England village seemed alive with expensive cars and loud-voiced people. Most of them had come from the surrounding vacation areas either to pick up a bargain or to watch the performance of the best of the Yankee auctioneers.

No one knew better than Cyrus Pratt that the city-slickers delighted in seeing him in action. And he knew that the more delighted they were, the more they’d bid; and the more they bid the more his ten per-cent would be; and the more chance he’d have of impressing Harriet.

He stood erect on the front porch, his calculating brain surveying the crowd, artfully selecting articles for the best dramatic effect and least boredom.

One of his assistants came out of the barn and handed him the next item – a slightly used bicycle which Harriet had given her son just before he passed away last year. Cyrus always made certain that he injected modern articles between the antiques. That way he held the attention of those who had no interest in an object’s lineage, so long as it was usable


As he lifted the bicycle up on the porch beside him, his mind momentarily backtracked forty years; back to a time when a bicycle had been the most desirable thing in the world to a ten-year-old boy. So desirable, he remembered, that he had rummaged around in his grandmother’s attic and gathered some dusty things which she let him sell. From this money, he had bought a bicycle. This had started the urge within him to sell old things – an urge which eventually made him one of the shrewdest auctioneers in rural New England.

A murmur crept through the crowd on the lawn, and Cyrus Pratt forced his mind back to the present. He studied the shiny bicycle. It should bring twelve or fourteen dollars. A dollar-twenty or a dollar-forty for old Cyrus out of this one.

“Wal, friends,” he began, “ain’t much I got to say ‘bout this bicycle. You can see for yourselves it’s ‘most-new, just got its paint chipped a bit. Who’ll start it for five dollars?”
“Five,” a woman’s voice sounded.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Cyrus said. “Five I have. Do I hear six?”
“Six,” came a shout from the back.
“All right! I got six. Who’ll say seven?”
“Ten!” yelled a tiny youngster who came running across the lawn, a huge bag of magazines flopping from his shoulder. “I bid ten!”

“Wal, I’ll be,” Cyrus marveled out loud. “Can’t be over six, and a mite late, but this young fella must really want a bike.” He smiled condescendingly. “I’m bid ten. Who’ll make it eleven? How about you, ma’am?” he pointed to the original bidder. She nodded.

“Good!” he shouted. “I got eleven.” He glanced at Harriet, expecting to see a pleased expression on her face, but he was disappointed. She was frowning. Evidently eleven dollars wasn’t high enough for her. He looked at the crowd again. “Come on, folks, how about twelve?” he urged.

“I bid fifteen,” cracked the high-pitched voice of the boy. “Wal - -.” Cyrus hesitated, looking at the boy. “You got all that money, sonny?”
“Yessir. I got it with me, too.”

Cyrus Pratt studied the child. What did a modern youngster know about money and wanting things? Bidding ten and fifteen dollars like that! Money had never come to him that easily. He always had to work hard for it when he was young.

Cyrus made up his mind. This young spendthrift wasn’t going to get the bike. It might give him bad habits, throwing good money around like that.
“How about sixteen?” he coaxed the crowd.
“Sixteen,” called the woman.
“Sixteen, it is,” Cyrus stated. “Seems like a fair price to me. Goin’ for sixteen to the lady in red…”

Cyrus Pratt shook his head in helpless disgust. Everyone had heard the boy. He couldn’t refuse the bid. His mind spun frantically. Maybe he could get the woman to go higher. “How about it, ma’am, are you goin’ to let this ‘most-new bicycle go to this boy for that price? How about twenny-one?”

He watched the woman turn her back. “How about it folks,” he appealed to the crowd. “Won’t somebody say twenny-one?”

Silence. He sighed and handed the bicycle to his assistant to deliver to the boy and collect. At least he would get two dollars out of it. Harriet would be impressed to have it go so high. He glanced in her direction, but was puzzled. She didn’t look pleased at all. In fact, she hadn’t given him a kind look all morning despite the fact that he was driving some might shrewd deals.

He started to examine the next item for sale, an old leather-covered trunk, when he heard a commotion. Irritated, he looked up. His assistant was motioning from where he was standing with the boy who bought the bicycle. Cyrus noticed that Harriet was there, too. He stamped off the porch and over to the group.

“Cyrus,” his assistant said, “this boy came to pay for the bike, and look what he offers me. Open you hand, boy, and show Mr. Pratt.”

Cyrus stared impatiently at the clenched fist of the boy. Finally he saw it open. Two dimes! For an instant he couldn’t make the connection. Then his mind cleared: the little fellow had come late and thought they were talking about cents instead of dollars.

He laughed cynically and glanced at Harriet. Her eyes were cool and penetrating. “You’re the auctioneer, Cyrus,” she said.

Cyrus stared at the bicycle and then at the boy. He stopped laughing. There was something about the boy’s eyes. Their pride and intensity - it reminded him again of that other boy, forty years ago, of another bicycle, and another burning desire.

Abruptly, he turned to his assistant. “Ain’t worth more’n twenny-cents,” he barked. “Paint’s chipped.” Then he just stood there. He wondered how he could dare look at Harriet. After spending the morning in a futile attempt to impress her, now he’d practically given away her son’s bicycle.

Finally, he got up the courage, and cast a sheepish glance in her direction. But instead of the disgusted frown he expected to see, Harriet’s eyes were soft and glistening as they met his. She reached out and squeezed his hand.

Cyrus Pratt stood in embarrassed disbelief for a moment. Then he hurried toward the porch and the leather-covered trunk. He realized that while a two-cent commission might possibly have won him a wife, it would take more than that to support one; especially an impractical one.