as i recall, there were four of us left, myself, gunther, agatha, and lord george, slumped on the sofas of mr richardson’s not very tastefully appointed drawing room.
the party had been a solemn affair, without much scintillating conversation or scintillating anything, and we had dedicated ourselves to nothing more than the systematic depletion of our host’s liquor supply, punctuated by the occasional gaze into space.
gunther broke the silence.
“we had one of those old fashioned family councils,” he began, “and it was agreed that it was all up, and that it was only a matter of a few weeks at most before the bolsheviks arrived.
that being decided, we were ready to pack up what we could carry and be on our way. there was no time to sell the castle or anything else by the time honored procedures, even assuming the time honored procedures were still available.
but germinie had another idea, an idea to at least realize a bit of money that would come in handy in the first stages of our journeys.
she had read of a proceeding that was, according to her, common among the brits or maybe the yanks, and that was to empty the contents of a house, or in our case the castle, out on to a lawn or thoroughfare and offer them for sale - at ridiculously low prices - to passers by or to such persons in the vicinity who could be made aware of the occasion.
so germinie, in her energetic way, and assisted by her faithful lieutenants clara and sophie, and by the few servants who remained, set to, ‘with a will’, and on the appointed day, about a week after the decision to flee, i beheld, with what emotion i refrain from attempting to describe, many of the familiar objects of my childhood spread out nakedly in the sunshine - for it was quite a nice day - on the great green lawn i had so loved, and that had been tended for so long by so many faithful servants.
germinie and sophie and clara had attached little tags to most of the objects - or to the tables on which they stood - indicating prices, but it was understood that these were subject to bargaining, and that the bargaining on our side would be perfunctory and that we would take what was offered.
the greatest space was occupied by the contents of the old count’s vast library - which no doubt contained many so-called priceless volumes, but which were offered for small change along with many also priceless pictures and knick knacks and tables and mirrors and whatever.
i was assigned the duty of overseeing the sale of the books.
as the morning proceeded a not inconsiderable crowd materialized, of the peasants or middle class or bourgeiosie or however they were called, and with much shouting and jollity they picked their way through the scattered debris of my shattered existence.
germinie was at first delighted by the results, and happily exclaimed her surprise at the amounts of money accumulated - by such small amounts! - in so little time. i had always suspected her of having a merchant’s soul.
but as the day wore on, it was apparent that there was a loaves and fishes quality to the whole proceeding, and that no matter how much was sold, it seemed that hardly a dent had been made in the whole array, especially in the books, at which i proved but a poor hawker of wares.
so germinie and sophie and clara began circulating through the crowd, announcing that the prices were cut in half, and later by two-thirds , and still later as the sun began its descent, to ten percent of the original prices on the tags.
and this achieved some success, but still the peasants shuffled about, and poked and prodded, and scowled, and considered, and wished to haggle. and a great deal remained to be sold, again, especially the count’s beloved books, which excited little interest in the multitude, even when offered for literally a half-penny a volume.
finally, as dusk approached, germinie, faced with the prospects of bringing the books and other goods back into the castle , threw up her hands and shouted, ‘it’s free! it’s all free, good people! just take it - take what you will!’
and at that point the locusts descended, and the lawn was speedily denuded, or virtually so.”
gunther paused, but as none of us made any comment, he continued,
“i have often thought that this episode perfectly encapsulates the whole story of the modern age, the rise and fall of capitalism, of marxism, of the idea of progress, of post-post whatever, and the whole lot of it.”
“maybe,” said lord george, “people just like free stuff.”