by William Faulkner
. . . When the others turned, they saw that the woman had left the wagon too, though they had not known she was there since they had not seen the wagon drive up. She came among them behind the man, gaunt in the gray shapeless garment and the sunbonnet, wearing stained canvas gymnasium shoes She overtook the man but she did not touch him, standin gjust behind him, her hands rolled before her into the gray dress
“Henry,” she said in a flat voice. Th eman looked over his shoulder.
“Get back to that wagon,” he said.
“Here, missus,” the Texan said. “Henry's going to get the bargain of his life in about a minute. Here, boys, let the missus come up close where she can see. Henry's going to pick out that saddle-horse the missus has been wanting. Who says ten - - --”
“Henry,” the woman said. She did not raise her voice. She had not once looked at the Texan. She touched the man's arm. He turned and struck her hand down.
“Get back to that wagon like I told you.” The woman stood behind him, her hands rolled again into her dress. She was not looking at anything, speaking to anyone.
He aint no more despair than to buy one of them things,” she said. “And us not but five dollars away from the poor-house, he aint no more despair.” The man turned upon her with that curious air of leashed, of dreamlike fury. The others lounged along the fence in attitudes gravely attentive, almost oblivious. Mrs Littlejohn had been washing for some time now, pumping rhythmically up and down above the wash-board in the sud-foamed tub. She now stood erect again, her soap-raw hands on her hips, looking into the lot.
“Shut your mouth and get back in that wagon,” the man said. “Do you want me to take a wagon stake to you?” He turned and looked up at the Texan. “Did you give him that horse?” he said. The Texan was looking at the woman. Then he looked at the man; still watching him, he tilted the paper carton over his open palm. A single cake came out of it.
“Yes,” he said.
“Is the fellow that bids in this next horse going to get that first one too?”
“No,” the Texan said.
“All right,” the other said. “Are you going to give a horse to the man that makes the first bid on the next one?”
“No,” the Texan said.
“Then if you were just starting the auction off by giving away a horse, why didn't you wait till we were all here?” The Texan stopped looking at the other. He raised the empty carton and squinted carefully into it, as if it might contain a precious jewel or perhaps a deadly insect. Then he crumpled it and dropped it carefully beside the post on which he sat.
“Eck bids two dollars,” he said. “I believe he still thinks he's bidding on them scraps of bob-wire they come here in instead of one of the horses. But I got to accept it. But are you boys ----”
“So Eck's going to get two horses at a dollar a head,” the newcomer said. “Three dollars.” The woman touched him again He flung her han off without turning and she stood again, her hands rolled into her dress across her flat stomach, not looking at anything.
“Misters,” she said, “we got chaps in the house that never had shoes last winter. We aint got corn to feed the stock. We got five dollars I earned weaving by firelight after dark. And he aint no more despair.”
“Henry bids three dollars,” the Texan said. “Raise him a dollar, Eck, and the horse is yours.” Beyond the fence the horses rushed suddenly and for no reason and as suddenly stopped, staring at the faces along the fence.
“Henry,” the woman said. The man was watching Eck. His stained and broken teeth showed a little beneath his lip. His wrists dangled into fists below the faded sleeves of his shirt too short from many washings.
“Four dollars,” Eck said.
“Five dollars!' the husband said, raising one clenched hand. He shouldered himself forward toward the gate-post. The woman did not follow him. She now looked at the Texan for the first time. Here eyes were a washed gray also, as though they had faded too like the dress and the sunbonnet.
“Mister,” she said, “if you take that five dollars I earned my chaps a-weaving for one of them things, it'll be a curse on you and yours during all the time of man.”
“Five dollars!” the husband shouted. He thrust himself up to the post, his clenched hand on a level with the Texan's knees. He opened it upon a wad of frayed banknotes and silver. “Five dollars! And the man that raises it will have to beat my head off or I'll beat hisn.”
“All right,” the Texan said. “Five dollars is bid. But don't you shake your hand at me.”
At five oclock that afternoon the Texan crumpled the third paper carton and dropped it to the earth beneath him. In the copper slant of the leveling sun which fell also upon the line of limp garments in Mrs Littlejohn's backyard and which cast his shadow and that of the post on which he sat long across the lot where now and then the ponies still rushed in purposeless and tireless surges, the Texan straightened his leg and thrust his hand into his pocket and took out a coin and leaned down to the little boy. His voice was now hoarse, spent. “Here, bud,” he said. “Run to the store and get me a box of gingersnaps”
From William Faulkner's "Wild Horses, " Three Famous Short Novels (Vintage 2011).