An Auction

What if my houses be troubled with a rat,
And I be pleased to give ten thousand ducats
To have it baned - Shakespeare
One evening in March, when the days were lengthening fast, there came a messenger from Dorchester, and brought printed notices for fixing to the shutters of the Why Not? and to the church door, which said that in a week's time the bailiff of the duchy of Cornwall would visit Moonfleet. This bailiff was an important person, and his visits stood as events in village history. Once in five years he made a perambulation, or journey, through the whole duchy, inspecting all the Royal property, and arranging for new leases. His visits to Moonfleet were generally short enough, for owing to the Mohunes owning all the land, the only duchy estate there was the Why Not? and the only duty of the bailiff to renew that five-year lease, under which Blocks had held the inn, father and son, for generations. But for all that, the business was not performed without ceremony, for there was a solemn show of putting up the lease of the inn to the highest bidder, though it was well understood that no one except Elzevir would make an offer.

So one morning, a week later, I went up to the top end of the village to watch for the bailiff's postchaise, and about eleven of the forenoon saw it coming down the hill with four horses and two postillions. Presently it came past, and I saw there were two men in it - a clerk sitting with his back to the horses, and in the seat opposite a little man in a periwig, whom 1 took for the bailiff. Then I ran down to my aunt's house, for Elzevir had asked me to beg one of her best winter candles for a purpose which I will explain presently. I had not seen Aunt Jane, except in church, since the day that she dismissed me, but she was no stiffer than usual, and gave me the candle readily enough. "There," she said, "take it, and I wish it may bring light into your dark heart, and show you what a wicked thing it is to leave your own kith and kin and go to dwell in a tavern." I was for saying that it was kith and kin that left me, and not I them; and as for living in a tavern, it was better to live there than nowhere at all, as she would wish me to do in turning me out of her house; but did not, and only thanked her for the candle, and was off.

When I came to the inn, there was the postchaise in front of the door, the horses being led away to bait, and a little group of villagers standing round; for though the ion of the Why Not? was in itself a trite thing with a foregone conclusion, yet the bailiff's visit a I ways stirred some show of interest. There were a few children with their noses flattened against the windows of the parlour, and inside were Mr Bailiff and Mr Clerk hard at work on their dinner. Mr. Bailiff ho was, as I guessed, the little man in the periwig, sat at the top of the table, and Mr Clerk sat at the bottom, and on chairs were placed their hats, and travelling-cloaks, and bundles of papers tied together with green tape. You may be sure that Elzevir had a good dinner for them, with hot rabbit pie and cold round of brawn, and a piece of blue vinny, which Mr Bailiff ate heartily, but his clerk would not touch, saying he had as lief chew soap. There was also a bottle of Ararat milk, and a flagon of ale, for we were afraid to set French wines before them, lest they should fall to wondering how they were come by.

Elzevir took the candle, chiding me a little for being late, and set it in a brass candlestick in the middle of the table. Then Mr Clerk takes a little rule from his pocket, measured an inch down on the candle, sticks into the grease at that point a scarf-pin with an onyx head that Elzevir lent him, and lights the wick. Now the reason of this was, that the custom ran in Moonfleet when either land or lease was put up to bidding, to stick a pin in a candle; and so long as the pin held firm, it was open to any to make a better offer, but when the flame burnt down and the pin fell out, then land or lease fell to the last bidder. So after dinner was over and the table cleared, Mr Clerk takes out a roll of papers and reads a legal description of the Why Not?, calling it the Mohune Arms, an excellent messuage or tenement now used as a tavern, and speaking of the convenient paddocks or parcels of grazing land at the back of it, called Moons'-lease, amounting to sixteen acres more or less. Then he invites the company to make an offer of rent for such a desirable property under a five years' lease, and as Elzevir and I are the only company present, the bidding is soon done; for Elzevir offers a rent of #12 a year, which has always been the value of the Why Not? The clerk makes a note of this; but the business is not over yet, for we must wait till the pin drops out of the candle before the lease is finally made out. So the men fell to smoking to pass the time, till there could not have been more than ten minutes' candle to burn, and Mr Bailiff with a glass of Ararat milk in his hand, was saying, 'Tis a curious and fine tap of Hollands you keep here, Master Block," when in walked Mr Maskew.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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