Timothy Shay Arthur, 1859
I am not much of a bargain-buyer, having had, like most housekeepers, sufficient experience on that subject to effect a pretty thorough cure of the disease, as mild as it was in the beginning. As all diseases, whether bodily or mental, leave behind them a predisposition to return, I have, from time to time, been subjected to slight paroxysms of the old complaint. From the effects of my last rather mild attack, I am now recovering.
I was passing along Walnut street, on my way to drop a letter in the Post Office, one morning, about ten o'clock, when the ringing of an auctioneer's bell came suddenly on my ears. Lifting my eyes, I saw the flag of Thomas & Son displayed before me, and read the words, "Auction this morning!"
Here was an "exciting cause," as the doctors say, and, instantly I felt a movement of the old affection. Two or three ladies happened to be entering the store at the time, and the sudden inclination to follow them was so strong, that I did not attempt its resistance. It was not my intention, to buy anything, of course; for I was conscious of no particular need. I only just wished, if any wish were really full formed, to see what was to be sold.
Scarcely had I entered the door, when a sofa, so nearly new that it hardly bore a mark of having been used, presented itself, and captivated my fancy. The one that graced our parlor had grown somewhat out of fashion. It was in good keeping, but rather plain in style: and, as we had recently treated ourselves to handsome new carpets, did not appear to quite so good advantage as before. This one, to be sold at auction, was made after a newer pattern, and, as my eyes continued to rest upon it--the desires to have it in my parlor was fully formed.
I have said, that on entering the auction store, I was unconscious of any particular need. This was true, notwithstanding my husband and I had, a few days before, called at a cabinet maker's wareroom, to look at a sofa. In consequence of former experience in cheap furniture, we had no thought of getting a low-priced article from a second or third rate establishment; but designed, when we did purchase, to act wisely and get the best. We had been looking at a sofa for which sixty-five dollars was asked; and were hesitating between that and another upon which fifty dollars was set as the price.
It was but natural, under these circumstances, that I should look upon this sofa with more than ordinary interest. A glance told me that it was an article of superior make, and a close examination fully confirmed this impression.
A few minutes after my entrance, the sale begun, and it so happened that the sofa came first on the list.
"We shall begin this morning," said the auctioneer, "with a superior, fashionable sofa, made by Hitchcock. It has only been in use a short time, and is, in every respect, equal to new."
All my predilections in favor of the sofa were confirmed the moment the manufacturer's name was announced. Of course, it was of the best material and workmanship.
"What is bid for this superior sofa, made by Hitchcock," went on the salesman,--"Seventy dollars--sixty-five--sixty-fifty--five-fifty--forty-five--forty--thirty-five--thirty."
"Twenty-five dollars," said a timid voice.
"Twenty-five! Twenty-five!" cried the auctioneer.
"Twenty-six," said I.
The first bidder advanced a dollar on this; then I bid twenty-eight; he went up to twenty-nine, and I made it thirty, at which offer the sofa was knocked down to me.
"That's a bargain, and no mistake," said the salesman. "It is worth fifty dollars, if it's worth a cent."
"I'll give you five dollars advance," proposed a lady by my side, who had desired to bid, but could not bring up her courage to the point.
"No, thank you," was my prompt answer. I was too well pleased with my bargain.
When Mr. Smith came home to dinner on that day, I met him in the parlor.
"What do you think of this?" said I, pointing to the new sofa. I spoke in an exultant voice.
"Where in the world did it come from?" inquired my husband, evincing a natural surprise.
"I bought it," was my reply.
"This morning, at auction."
"Yes; and it's a bargain. Now guess what I gave for it?"
"Now my husband! But come; be serious. Isn't it cheap at forty dollars?"
My husband examined the sofa with care, and then gave it as his opinion that it wasn't dear at forty dollars.
"I got it for thirty," said I.
"Indeed! I would really call that a bargain--provided you don't discover in it, after a while, some defect."
"I've looked at every part, over and over again," was my response to this, "and can find a defect nowhere. None exists, I am satisfied."
"Time will show," remarked my husband.
There was the smallest perceptible doubt in his tone.
Next morning, on going into my parlors, I was a little worried to see two or three moths flying about the room. They were despatched with commendable quickness. On the morning that followed, the same thing occurred again; and this was repeated, morning after morning. Moreover, in a few days, these insects, so dreaded by housekeepers, showed themselves in the chambers above. Up to this time I had neglected to put away my furs, a new set of which had been purchased during the previous winter. I delayed this no longer.
House-cleaning time had now arrived. My new carpets were taken up and packed away, to give place to the cooler matting. Our winter clothing also received attention, and was deposited in chests and closets for the summer, duly provided with all needful protection from moths. After this came the calm of rest and self-satisfaction.
One day, about the middle of July, a lady friend called in to see me.
"That's a neat sofa, Mrs. Smith," said she, in the pause of a conversation.
"I think it very neat," was my answer.
"It's made from the same pattern with one that I had. One that I always liked, and from which I was sorry to part."
"You sold it?" said I.
"Yes. I sent it to auction."
"Ah! Why so?"
"I discovered, this spring, that the moths had got into it."
"Yes. They showed themselves, every day, in such numbers, in my parlors, that I became alarmed for my carpets. I soon traced their origin to the sofa, which was immediately packed off to auction. I was sorry to part with it; but, there was no other effective remedy."
"You lost on the sale, I presume," I ventured to remark.
"Yes; that was to be expected. It cost sixty dollars, and brought only thirty. But this loss was to be preferred to the destruction such an army of moths as it was sending forth, would have occasioned."
I changed the subject, dexterously, having heard quite enough about the sofa to satisfy me that my bargain was likely to prove a bad one.
All the summer, I was troubled with visions of moth-eaten carpets, furs, shawls, and overcoats; and they proved to be only the foreshadowing of real things to come, for, when, in the fall, the contents of old chests, boxes, drawers, and dark closets were brought forth to the light, a state of affairs truly frightful was presented. One of the breadths of my handsome carpet had the pile so eaten off in conspicuous places, that no remedy was left but the purchase and substitution of a new one, at a cost of nearly ten dollars. In dozens of places the texture of the carpet was eaten entirely through.
I was, as my lady readers may naturally suppose, very unhappy at this. But, the evil by no means found a limit here. On opening my fur boxes, I found that the work of destruction had been going on there also. A single shake of the muff, threw little fibers and flakes of fur in no stinted measure upon the air; and, on dashing my hand hard against it, a larger mass was detached, showing the skin bare and white beneath. My furs were ruined! They had cost seventy dollars, and were not worth ten!
A still further examination into our stock of winter clothing, showed that the work of destruction had extended to almost every article. Scarcely anything had escaped.
Troubled, worried, and unhappy as I was, I yet concealed from my husband the origin of all this ruin. He never suspected our cheap sofa for a moment. After I had, by slow degrees, recovered from my chagrin and disappointment, my thoughts turned, naturally, upon a disposition of the sofa. What was to be done with it? As to keeping it over another season, that was not to be thought of for a moment. But, would it be right, I asked myself, to send it back to auctions and let it thus go into the possession of some housekeeper, as ignorant of its real character as I had been? I found it very hard to reconcile my conscience to such a disposition of the sofa. And there was still another difficulty in the way. What excuse for parting with it could I make to my husband? He had never suspected that article to be the origination of all the mischief and loss we had sustained.
Winter began drawing to a close, and still the sofa remained in its place, and still was I in perplexity as to what should be done with it.
"Business requires me to go to Charleston," said my husband, one day late in February.
"How long will you be away?" was my natural inquiry.
"From ten days to two weeks," replied my husband.
"So long as that?"
"It will hardly be possible to get home earlier than the time I have mentioned."
"You go in the Osprey?"
"Yes. She sails day after tomorrow. So will you have all ready for me, if you please."
Never before had the announcement of my husband that he had to go away on business, given me pleasure. The moment he said that he would be absent, the remedy for my difficulty suggested itself.
The very day Mr. Smith sailed in the steamer for Charleston, I sent for an upholsterer, and after explaining to him the defect connected with my sofa, directed him to have the seating all removed, and then replaced by new materials, taking particular care to thoroughly cleanse the inside of the wood work, lest the vestige of a moth should be left remaining.
All this was done, at a cost of twenty dollars. When Mr. Smith returned, the sofa was back in its place; and he was none the wiser for the change, until some months afterwards, when, unable to keep the secret any longer, I told him the whole story.
I am pretty well cured, I think now, of bargain-buying!