At the end of August, a successful lawyer has a public sale of his furniture, books, and paintings, as he is about to buy a new mansion and fill it with new things. The auction is treated “as a kind of festival.” Mr. Bulstrode’s health prevents him from attending, but he asks Will to buy a painting that his wife wants. Despite having declared he would leave weeks ago, Will remains in Middlemarch, because the truth is he doesn’t want to leave. Will agrees to go reluctantly. Many of the men at the auction look down on him because he is part-Polish.
Will’s tendency toward indecisiveness is starting to make him look rather foolish. Having declared that he will leave Middlemarch, he nonetheless remains there, arousing suspicion from those who already distrust him due to his ancestral background.
The auction begins with small items, such as a novelty book of riddles, before moving on to paintings and prints. Suddenly a “shabby”-looking stranger arrives, and members of the crowd wonder who he is. Finally the painting Mrs. Bulstrode wants is brought out and Will is relieved, as he is desperate to go. Will bids £5, while Mr. Trumbull enthusiastically attempts to push up the price. In the end, it is sold to Will for £10. As he goes to leave, the stranger—Raffles—approaches and asks Will if his mother was named Sarah Dunkirk. Will says she was.
Will tries to get his favor for Bulstrode over and done with as quickly as possible; he seems uncomfortable in the public setting of the auction, likely because he is embarrassed about still being in Middlemarch and hurt by the scorn with which the townspeople treat him. However, his attempt at inconspicuousness is ruined by the sinister reappearance of Raffles.
Raffles tells Will that he knew Sarah when she was young, and that he also knew Will’s father. He asks if Will’s parents are still alive, Will angrily tells him they aren’t, and Raffles says goodbye and leaves. Later that night, however, Raffles finds Will again. He says he knows that Sarah left her family because they ran a “respectable thieving line” and she didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He suggests that they have a drink at the local tavern, but Will says he has to go. Walking away, Will feels dirty.
Part of the reason Raffles is so unnerving is that he behaves in a friendly manner, but it is clear his intentions are malicious. He does not observe the customs for proper behavior shared by other people in Middlemarch, and as such seems creepy and disturbing.