The Antiquers by Joseph
We've all got a crazy streak in us somewheres, I cal'late, only the
streaks don't all break out in the same place, which is a mercy, when
you come to think of it. One feller starts tooting a fish horn and
making announcements that he's the Angel Gabriel. Another poor
sufferer shows his first symptom by having his wife's relations come
and live with him. One ends in the asylum and t'other in the
poorhouse; that's the main difference in them cases. Jim Jones fiddles
with perpetual motion and Sam Smith develops a sure plan for busting
Wall Street and getting rich sudden. I take summer boarders maybe,
and you collect postage stamps. Oh, we're all looney, more or less,
every one of us.
Speaking of collecting reminds me of the "Antiquers"—that's what
Peter T. Brown called 'em. They put up at the Old Home House—
summer before last; and at a crank show they'd have tied for the blue
ribbon. There was the Dowager and the Duchess and "My Daughter" and
"Irene dear." Likewise there was Thompson and Small, but they, being
nothing but husbands and fathers, didn't count for much first along,
except when board was due or "antiques" had to be settled for.
The Dowager fetched port first. She hove alongside the Old Home
one morning early in July, and she had "My Daughter" in tow. The
names, as entered on the shipping list, was Mrs. Milo Patrick
Thompson and Miss Barbara Millicent Thompson, but Peter T. Brown he
had 'em re-entered as "The Dowager" and "My Daughter" almost as soon
as they dropped anchor. Thompson himself come poking up to the dock
on the following Saturday night; Peter didn't christen him, except to
chuck out something about Milo's being an "also ran."
The Dowager was skipper of the Thompson craft, with "My daughter"—
that's what her ma always called her—as first mate, and Milo as
general roustabout and purser.
'Twould have done you good to see the fleet run into the breakfast
room of a morning, with the Dowager leading, under full sail, Barbara
close up to her starboard quarter, and Milo tailing out a couple of
lengths astern. The other boarders looked like quahaug dories abreast
of the Marblehead Yacht Club. Oh, the Thompsons won every cup until
the Smalls arrived on a Monday; then 'twas a dead heat.
Mamma Small was built on the lines of old lady Thompson, only more
so, and her daughter flew pretty nigh as many pennants as Barbara.
Peter T. had 'em labeled the "Duchess" and "Irene dear" in a jiffy.
He didn't nickname Small any more'n he had Thompson, and for the same
reasons. Me and Cap'n Jonadab called Small "Eddie" behind his back,
'count of his wife's hailing him as "Edwin."
Well, the Dowager and the Duchess sized each other up, and,
recognizing I jedge, that they was sister ships, set signals and
agreed to cruise in company and watch out for pirates—meaning young
men without money who might want to talk to their daughters. In a week
the four women was thicker than hasty-pudding and had thrones on the
piazza where they could patronize everybody short of the Creator, and
criticize the other boarders. Milo and Eddie got friendly too, and
found a harbor behind the barn where they could smoke and swap
'Twas fair weather for pretty near a fortni't, and then she
thickened up. The special brand of craziness in Wellmouth that
season was collecting "antiques," the same being busted chairs and
invalid bureaus and sofys that your great grandmarm got ashamed of
and sent to the sickbay a thousand year ago. Oh, yes, and dishes! If
there was one thing that would drive a city woman to counting her
fingers and cutting paper dolls, 'twas a nicked blue plate with a
Chinese picture on it. And the homelier the plate the higher the
price. Why there was as many as six families that got enough money
for the rubbage in their garrets to furnish their houses all over
with brand new things—real shiny, hand-painted stuff, not haircloth
ruins with music box springs, nor platters that you had to put a pan
under for fear of losing cargo.
I don't know who fetched the disease to the Old Home House. All
I'm sartain of is that 'twan't long afore all hands was in that
condition where the doctor'd have passed 'em on to the parson. First
along it seemed as if the Thompson-Small syndicate had been
vaccinated—they didn't develop a symptom. But one noon the Dowager
sails into the dining-room and unfurls a brown paper bundle.
"I've captured a prize, my dear," says she to the Duchess. "A
veritable prize. Just look!"
And she dives under the brown paper hatches and resurrects a pink
plate, suffering from yaller jaundice, with the picture of a pink
boy, wearing curls and a monkey-jacket, holding hands with a pink
girl with pointed feet.
"Ain't it perfectly lovely?" says she, waving the outrage in front
of the Duchess. "A ginuwine Hall nappy! And in SUCH condition!"
"Why," says the Duchess, "I didn't know you were interested in
"I dote on 'em," comes back the Dowager, and "my daughter" owned up
that she "adored" 'em.
"If you knew," continues Mrs. Thompson, "how I've planned and
contrived to get this treasure. I've schemed— My! my! My daughter
says she's actually ashamed of me. Oh, no! I can't tell even you
where I got it. All's fair in love and collecting, you know, and
there are more gems where this came from."
She laughed and "my daughter" laughed, and the Duchess and "Irene
dear" laughed, too, and said the plate was "SO quaint," and all that,
but you could fairly hear 'em turn green with jealousy. It didn't
need a spyglass to see that they wouldn't ride easy at their own
moorings till THEY'D landed a treasure or two—probably two.
And sure enough, in a couple of days they bore down on the
Thompsons, all sail set and colors flying. They had a pair of plates
that for ugliness and price knocked the "ginuwine Hall nappy" higher
'n the main truck. And the way they crowed and bragged about their
"finds" wa'n't fit to put in the log. The Dowager and "my daughter"
left that dinner table trembling all over.
Well, you can see how a v'yage would end that commenced that way.
The Dowager and Barbara would scour the neighborhood and capture more
prizes, and the Duchess and her tribe would get busy and go 'em one
better. That's one sure p'int about the collecting business—it'll
stir up a fight quicker'n anything I know of, except maybe a good
looking bachelor minister. The female Thompsons and Smalls was "my
dear-in'" each other more'n ever, but there was a chill setting in
round them piazza thrones, and some of the sarcastic remarks that was
casually hove out by the bosom friends was pretty nigh sharp enough to
shave with. As for Milo and Eddie, they still smoked together behind
the barn, but the atmosphere on the quarter-deck was affecting the
fo'castle and there wa'n't quite so many "old mans" and "dear boys" as
there used to was. There was a general white frost coming, and you
didn't need an Old Farmer's Almanac to prove it.
The spell of weather developed sudden. One evening me and Cap'n
Jonadab and Peter T. was having a confab by the steps of the
billiard-room, when Milo beats up from around the corner. He was
smiling as a basket of chips.
"Hello!" hails Peter T. cordial. "You look as if you'd had money
left you. Any one else remembered in the will?" he says.
Milo laughed all over. "Well, well," says he, "I AM feeling pretty
good. Made a ten-strike with Mrs. T. this afternoon for sure.
"That so?" says Peter. "What's up? Hooked a prince?"
A friend of "my daughter's" over at Newport had got engaged to a
mandarin or a count or something 'nother, and the Dowager had been
preaching kind of eloquent concerning the shortness of the nobility
crop round Wellmouth.
"No," says Milo, laughing again. "Nothing like that. But I have
got hold of that antique davenport she's been dying to capture."
One of the boarders at the hotel over to Harniss had been out
antiquing a week or so afore and had bagged a contraption which
answered to the name of a "ginuwine Sheriton davenport." The dowager
heard of it, and ever since she'd been remarking that some people had
husbands who cared enough for their wives to find things that pleased
'em. She wished she was lucky enough to have that kind of a man; but
no, SHE had to depend on herself, and etcetery and so forth. Maybe
you've heard sermons similar.
So we was glad for Milo and said so. Likewise we wanted to know
where he found the davenport.
"Why, up here in the woods," says Milo, "at the house of a queer
old stick, name of Rogers. I forget his front name—'twas longer'n
"Not Adoniram Rogers?" says Cap'n Jonadab, wondering.
"That's him," says Thompson.
Now, I knew Adoniram Rogers. His house was old enough, Lord knows;
but that a feller with a nose for a bargain like his should have hung
on to a salable piece of dunnage so long as this seemed 'most too
tough to believe.
"Well, I swan to man!" says I. "Adoniram Rogers! Have you seen
the—the davenport thing?"
"Sure I've seen it!" says Milo. "I ain't much of a jedge, and of
course I couldn't question Rogers too much for fear he'd stick on the
price. But it's an old davenport, and it's got Sheriton lines and
I've got the refusal of it till to-morrow, when Mrs. T's going up to
"Told Small yet?" asked Peter T., winking on the side to me and
Milo looked scared. "Goodness! No," says he. "And don't you tell
him neither. His wife's davenport hunting too."
"You say you've got the refusal of it?" says I. "Well, I know
Adoniram Rogers, and if _I_ was dickering with him I'd buy the thing
first and get the refusal of it afterwards. You hear ME?"
"Is that so?" repeats Milo. "Slippery, is he? I'll take my wife
up there first thing in the morning."
He walked off looking worried, and his tops'ls hadn't much more'n
sunk in the offing afore who should walk out of the billiard room
behind us but Eddie Small.
"Brown," says he to Peter T., "I want you to have a horse and buggy
harnessed up for me right off. Mrs. Small and I are going for a
little drive to—to—over to Orham," he says.
'Twas a mean, black night for a drive as fur as Orham and Peter
looked surprised. He started to say something, then swallered it
down, and told Eddie he'd see to the harnessing. When Small was out
of sight, I says:
"You don't cal'late he heard what Milo was telling, do you, Peter?"
Peter T. shook his head and winked, first at Jonadab and then at
And the next day there was the dickens to pay because Eddie and the
Duchess had driven up to Rogers' the night afore and had bought the
davenport, refusal and all, for twenty dollars more'n Milo offered
Adoniram brought it down that forenoon and all hands and the cook
was on the hurricane deck to man the yards. 'Twas a wonder them
boarders didn't turn out the band and fire salutes. Such ohs and
ahs! 'Twan't nothing but a ratty old cripple of a sofy, with one leg
carried away and most of the canvas in ribbons, but four men lugged it
up the steps and the careful way they handled it made you think the
Old Home House was a receiving tomb and they was laying in the dear
'Twas set down on the piazza and then the friends had a chance to
view the remains. The Duchess and "Irene dear" gurgled and gushed
and received congratulations. Eddie stood around and tried to look
modest as was possible under the circumstances. The Dowager sailed
over, tilted her nose up to the foretop, remarked "Humph"' through it
and come about and stood at the other end of the porch. "My daughter"
follers in her wake, observes "Humph!" likewise and makes for blue
water. Milo comes over and looks at Eddie.
"Well?" says Small. "What do you think of it?"
"Never mind what I think of IT," answers Thompson, through his
teeth. "Shall I tell you what I think of YOU?"
I thought for a minute that hostilities was going to begin, but
they didn't. The women was the real battleships in that fleet, the
men wa'n't nothing but transports. Milo and Eddie just glared at
each other and sheered off, and the "ginuwine Sheriton" was lugged
into the sepulchre, meaning the trunk-room aloft in the hotel.
And after that the cold around the thrones was so fierce we had to
move the thermometer, and we had to give the families separate tables
in the dining-room so's the milk wouldn't freeze. You see the pitcher
set right between 'em, and— Oh! I didn't expect you'd believe it.
The "antiquing" went on harder than ever. Every time the Thompsons
landed a relic, they'd bring it out on the veranda or in to dinner
and gloat over it loud and pointed, while the Smalls would pipe all
hands to unload sarcasm. And the same vicy vercy when 'twas t'other
way about. 'Twas interesting and instructive to listen to and amused
the populace on rainy days, so Peter T. said.
Adoniram Rogers had been mighty scurce 'round the Old Home sense
the davenport deal. But one morning he showed up unexpected. A
boarder had dug up an antique somewheres in the shape of a derelict
plate, and was displaying it proud on the piazza. The Thompsons was
there and the Smalls and a whole lot more. All of a sudden Rogers
walks up the steps and reaches over and makes fast to the plate.
"Look out!" hollers the prize-winner, frantic. "You'll drop it!"
Adoniram grunted. "Huh!" says he. "'Tain't nothing but a blue
dish. I've got a whole closet full of them."
"WHAT?" yells everybody. And then: "Will you sell 'em?"
"Sell 'em?" says Rogers, looking round surprised. "Why, I never
see nothing I wouldn't sell if I got money enough for it."
Then for the next few minutes there was what old Parson Danvers
used to call a study in human nature. All hands started for that
poor, helpless plate owner as if they was going to swoop down on him
like a passel of gulls on a dead horse-mack'rel. Then they come to
themselves and stopped and looked at each other, kind of shamefaced
but suspicious. The Duchess and her crowd glared at the Dowager tribe
and got the glares back with compound interest. Everybody wanted to
get Adoniram one side and talk with him, and everybody else was
determined they shouldn't. Wherever he moved the "Antiquers" moved
with him. Milo watched from the side lines. Rogers got scared.
"Look here," says he, staring sort of wild-like at the boarders.
"What ails you folks? Are you crazy?"
Well, he might have made a good deal worse guess than that. I
don't know how 'twould have ended if Peter T. Brown, cool and sassy
as ever, hadn't come on deck just then and took command.
"See here, Rogers," he says, "let's understand this thing. Have
you got a set of dishes like that?"
Adoniram looked at him. "Will I get jailed if I say yes?" he
"Maybe you will if you don't," says Peter. "Now, then, ladies and
gentlemen, this is something we're all interested in, and I think
everybody ought to have a fair show. I jedge from the defendant's
testimony that he HAS got a set of the dishes, and I also jedge, from
my experience and three years' dealings with him, that he's too
public-spirited to keep 'em, provided he's paid four times what
they're worth. Now my idea is this; Rogers will bring those dishes
down here tomorrer and we'll put 'em on exhibition in the hotel
parlor. Next day we'll have an auction and sell 'em to the highest
cash bidder. And, provided there's no objection, I'll sacrifice my
reputation and be auctioneer."
So 'twas agreed to have the auction.
Next day Adoniram heaves alongside with the dishes in a truck
wagon, and they was strung out on the tables in the parlor. And such
a pawing over and gabbling you never heard. I'd been suspicious,
myself, knowing Rogers, but there was the set from platters to
sassers, and blue enough and ugly enough to be as antique as Mrs.
Methusalem's jet earrings. The "Antiquers" handled 'em and admired
'em and p'inted to the three holes in the back of each dish—the same
being proof of age—and got more covetous every minute. But the joy
was limited. As one feller said, "I'd like 'em mighty well, but what
chance'll we have bidding against green- back syndicates like that?"
referring to the Dowager and the Duchess.
Milo and Eddie was the most worried of all, because each of 'em had
been commissioned by their commanding officers not to let t'other
That auction was the biggest thing that ever happened at the Old
Home. We had it on the lawn out back of the billiard room and folks
came from Harniss and Orham and the land knows where. The sheds and
barn was filled with carriages and we served thirty-two extra dinners
at a dollar a feed. The dishes was piled on a table and Peter T. done
his auctioneer preaching from a kind of pulpit made out of two cracker
boxes and a tea chest.
But there wa'n't any real bidding except from the Smalls and
Thompsons. A few of the boarders and some of the out-of-towners took
a shy long at first, but their bids was only ground bait. Milo and
Eddie, backed by the Dowager and the Duchess, done the real fishing.
The price went up and up. Peter T. whooped and pounded and all but
shed tears. If he'd been burying a competition hotel keeper he
couldn't have hove more soul into his work. 'Twas, "Fifty! Do I
hear sixty? Sixty do I hear? Fifty dollars! THINK of it? Why,
friends, this ain't a church pound party. Look at them dishes! LOOK
at 'em! Why, the pin feathers on those blue dicky birds in the
corners are worth more'n that for mattress stuffing. Do I hear sixty?
Sixty I'm bid. Who says seventy?"
Milo said it, and Eddie was back at him afore he could shake the
reefs out of the last syllable. She went up to a hundred, then to
one hundred and twenty-five, and with every raise Adoniram Roger's
smile lengthened out. After the one-twenty-five mark the tide rose
slower. Milo'd raise it a dollar and Eddie'd jump him fifty cents.
And just then two things happened. One was that a servant girl
come running from the Old Home House to tell the Duchess and "Irene
dear" that some swell friends of theirs from the hotel at Harniss had
driven over to call and was waiting for 'em in the parlor. The female
Smalls went in, though they wa'n't joyful over it. They give Eddie
his sailing orders afore they went, too.
The other thing that happened was Bill Saltmarsh's arriving in
port. Bill is an "antiquer" for revenue only. He runs an antique
store over at Ostable and the prices he charges are enough to convict
him without hearing the evidence. I knew he'd come.
Saltmarsh busts through the crowd and makes for the pulpit. He
nods to Peter T. and picks up one of the plates. He looks at it
first ruther casual; then more and more careful, turning it over and
taking up another.
"Hold on a minute, Brown," says he. "Are THESE the dishes you're
"Sure thing," comes back Peter. "Think we're serving free lunch?
No, sir! Those are the genuine articles, Mr. Saltmarsh, and you're
cheating the widders and orphans if you don't put in a bid quick. One
thirty-two fifty, I'm bid. Now, Saltmarsh!"
But Bill only laughed. Then he picks up another plate, looks at
it, and laughs again.
"Good day, Brown," says he. "Sorry I can't stop." And off he puts
towards his horse and buggy.
Eddie Small was watching him. Milo, being on the other side of the
pulpit, hadn't noticed so partic'lar.
"Who's that?" asks Eddie, suspicious. "Does he know antiques?"
I remarked that if Bill didn't, then nobody did.
"Look here, Saltmarsh!" says Small, catching Bill by the arm as he
shoved through the crowd. "What's the matter with those dishes—
Bill turned and looked at him. "Why, no," he says, slow. "They're
all right—of their kind." And off he put again.
But Eddie wa'n't satisfied. He turns to me. "By George!" he says.
"What is it? Does he think they're fakes?"
I didn't know, so I shook my head. Small fidgetted, looked at
Peter, and then run after Saltmarsh. Milo had just raised the bid.
"One hundred and thirty-three" hollers Peter, fetching the tea
chest a belt. "One thirty-four do I hear? Make it one thirty- three
fifty. Fifty cents do I hear? Come, come! this is highway robbery,
gentlemen. Mr. Small—where are you?"
But Eddie was talking to Saltmarsh. In a minute back he comes,
looking more worried than ever. Peter T. bawled and pounded and
beckoned at him with the mallet, but he only fidgetted—didn't know
what to do.
"One thirty-three!" bellers Peter. "One thirty-three! Oh, how can
I look my grandmother's picture in the face after this? One
thirty-three—once! One thirty-three—twice! Third and last call!
Then Eddie begun to raise his hand, but 'twas too late.
"One thirty-three and SOLD! To Mr. Milo Thompson for one hundred
and thirty-three dollars!"
And just then come a shriek from the piazza; the Duchess and "Irene
dear" had come out of the parlor.
Well! Talk about crowing! The way that Thompson crowd rubbed it
in on the Smalls was enough to make you leave the dinner table. They
had the servants take in them dishes, piece by piece, and every single
article, down to the last butter plate, was steered straight by the
As for poor Eddie, when he come up to explain why he hadn't kept on
bidding, his wife put him out like he was a tin lamp.
"Don't SPEAK to me!" says she. "Don't you DARE speak to me."
He didn't dare. He just run up a storm sail and beat for harbor
back of the barn. And from the piazza Milo cackled vainglorious.
Me and Cap'n Jonadab and Peter T. felt so sorry for Eddie, knowing
what he had coming to him from the Duchess, that we went out to see
him. He was setting on a wrecked hencoop, looking heart-broke but
"'Twas that Saltmarsh made me lose my nerve," he says. "I thought
when he wouldn't bid there was something wrong with the dishes. And
there WAS something wrong, too. Now what was it?"
"Maybe the price was too high," says I.
"No, 'twa'n't that. I b'lieve yet he thought they were imitations.
Oh, if they only were!"
And then, lo and behold you, around the corner comes Adoniram
Rogers. I'd have bet large that whatever conscience Adoniram was
born with had dried up and blown away years ago. But no; he'd
resurrected a remnant.
"Mr. Small," stammered Mr. Rogers, "I'm sorry you feel bad about
not buying them dishes. I—I thought I'd ought to tell you—that is
to say, I— Well, if you want another set, I cal'late I can get it
for you—that is, if you won't tell nobody."
"ANOTHER set?" hollers Eddie, wide-eyed. "Anoth— Do you mean to
say you've got MORE?"
"Why, I ain't exactly got 'em now, but my nephew John keeps a
furniture store in South Boston, and he has lots of sets like that. I
bought that one off him."
Peter T. Brown jumps to his feet.
"Why, you outrageous robber!" he hollers. "Didn't you say those
dishes were old?"
"I never said nothing, except that they were like the plate that
feller had on the piazza. And they was, too. YOU folks said they
was old, and I thought you'd ought to know, so—"
Eddie Small threw up both hands. "Fakes!" he hollers. "Fakes!
AND THOMPSON PAID ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE DOLLARS FOR 'EM! Boys,
there's times when life's worth living. Have a drink."
We went into the billard-room and took something; that is, Peter
and Eddie took that kind of something. Me and Jonadab took cigars.
"Fellers," said Eddie, "drink hearty. I'm going in to tell my
wife. Fake dishes! And I beat Thompson on the davenport."
He went away bubbling like a biling spring. After he was gone
Rogers looked thoughtful.
"That's funny, too, ain't it?" he says.
"What's funny?" we asked.
"Why, about that sofy he calls a davenport. You see, I bought that
off John, too," says Adoniram.