Who goes higher? Forty cents; why, the North Pole is worth much more than that, for it is guaranteed to be made of ice.”
The Danish delegate said 50 cents and the Hollandish delegate promptly outbid him by 10 cents.
Nobody said a word. This 60 cents represented the respectable amount of $244,200. The lift given by Holland to the sale started a murmur of satisfaction. It seemed that the persons who had nothing in their pockets and nothing to their names were the most interested of all in this contest of dollars.
At the moment Jacques Jansen made his offer Major Donellan looked at his secretary, Dean Toodrink, and, with an almost imperceptible negative sign, kept him silent. Mr. William S. Forster, seeming very much interested in his paper, made some pencil notes. Mr. J.T. Maston, only replied to the smiles of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt with a nod of the head.
“Hurry up, gentlemen; a little life. Don’t let us linger. This is very weak, very slow,” said the auctioneer. “Let me see. Nobody says more. Must I knock down the North Pole at such a price?” and as he spoke his hammer went up and down just like the cross in a priest’s hands when he wishes to bless his people.
“Seventy cents,” said Jan Harald, with a voice which trembled a little.
“Eighty,” immediately responded Col. Boris Karkof.
“Hurry up, 80 cents,” said Flint, whose eyes were burning with excitement.
A gesture of Dean Toodrink made Major Donellan jump up like a spirit. “One hundred cents,” said he with a short and sharp tone, becoming in one who represented Great Britain. That one word made England responsible for $407,000.
The friends of the bidders for the United Kingdom made a great hurrah, which was repeated like an echo by the outside crowd. The bidders for America looked at each other with disappointment; $407,000; this was already a very large figure for such a region as the North Pole; $407,000 for ice, icebergs, and icefields?
And the man of the N. P. P. A. did not say one word, did not even raise his head. Would he decide to make at last one overwhelming bid? If he wanted to wait until the Danish delegates, those of Sweden, Holland, and Russia had exhausted their credit, it would seem that the proper moment had come. Their faces plainly showed that before the “100 cents” of Major Donellan, they had decided to quit the battlefield. “One hundred cents the square mile,” said the auctioneer for the second time, “One hundred, one hundred, one hundred,” cried out Flint, making a speaking-trumpet of his half-closed hand. “Nobody goes higher?” questioned Auctioneer Gilmour. “Is it heard? Is it understood? No regrets afterwards? We will sell it now.” And he took his position and looking at his clerk, said: “once, twice”—
“One hundred and ten,” very quietly said William S. Forster, without even raising his eyes, after having turned the page of his paper.
“Hip, hip, hip,” shouted the crowd who had put most of the money on America in the bets. Major Donellan was astonished. His long neck turned in all directions and he shrugged his shoulders, while his lips worked with great excitement. He tried to crush this American representative with one look, but without success, but Mr. Forster, cool as a cucumber, did not budge.
“One hundred and forty,” said Major Donellan.
“One hundred and sixty,” said Forster.
“One hundred and eighty,” said the Major, with great excitement.
“One hundred and ninety,” said Forster.
“One hundred and ninety-nine,” roared the delegate of Great Britain. With this he crossed his arms and seemed to defy the United States of America.
One might have heard a mouse run, or a miller fly, or a worm creep. All hearts were beating. A life seemed hanging on the lips of Major Donellan. His head, generally restless, was still now. Dean Toodrink had sat down and was pulling out his hairs one by one. Auctioneer Gilmour let a few moments run by. They seemed as long as centuries. The codfish merchant continued reading his paper and making pencil figures which had evidently nothing at all to do wth [with] the question.