A thunderbolt would not have astonished me so much as did his appearance, and Elzevir's face grew black as night; but the bailiff and clerk showed no surprise, not knowing the terms on which persons in our village stood to one another, and thinking it natural that someone should come in to see the pin drop, and the end of an ancient custom. Indeed, Maskew seemed to know the bailiff, for he passed the time of day with him, and was then for sitting down at the table without taking any notice of Elzevir or me. But just as he began to seat himself, Block shouted out, "You are no welcome visitor in my house, and I would sooner see your back than see your face, but sit at this table you shall not." I knew what he meant; for on that table they had laid out David's body, and with that he struck his fist upon the board so smart as to make the bailiff jump and nearly bring the pin out of the candle. Heyday, sirs," says Mr Bailiff, astonished, "let us have no brawling here, the more so as this worshipful gentleman is a magistrate and something of a friend of mine." Yet Maskew refrained from sitting, but stood by the bailiff's chair, turning white, and not red, as he did with Mr Glennie; and muttered something, that he had as lief stand as sit, and that it should soon be Block's turn to ask sitting-room of him.

I was wondering what possibly could have brought Maskew there, when the bailiff who was ill at ease, said--

"Come, Mr Clerk, the pin hath but another minute's hold; rehearse what has been done, for I must get this lease delivered and off to Bridport, where much business waits."

So the clerk read in a singsong voice that the property of the duchy of Cornwall, called the Mohune Arms, an inn or tavern, with all its land, tenements, and appurtenances, situate in the Parish of St Sebastian, Moonfleet, having been offered on lease for five years, would be let to Elzevir Block at a rent of #12 per annum, unless anyone offered a higher rent before the pin fell from the candle.

There was no one to make another offer, and the bailiff said to Elzevir, "Tell them to have the horses round, the pin will be out in a minute, and 'twill save time." So Elzevir gave the order, and then we all stood round in silence, waiting for the pin to fall. The grease had burnt down to the mark, or almost below it, as it appeared; but just where the pin stuck in there was a little lump of harder tallow that held bravely out, refusing to be melted. The bailiff gave a stamp of impatience with his foot under the table as though he hoped thus to shake out the pin, and then a little dry voice came from Maskew, saying--

"I offer #13 a year for the inn."

This fell upon us with so much surprise, that all looked round, seeking as it were some other speaker, and never thinking that it could be Maskew. Elzevir was the first, I believe, to fully understand 'twas he; and without turning to look at bailiff or Maskew, but having his elbows on the table, his face between his hands, and looking straight out to sea, said in a sturdy voice, "I offer #20."

The words were scarce out of his mouth when Maskew caps them with #21, and so in less than a minute the rent of the Why Not? was near doubled. Then the bailiff looked from one to the other, not knowing what to make of it all, nor whether 'twas comedy or serious, and said--

"Kind sir, I warn ye not to trifle; I have no time to waste in April fooling, and he who makes offers in sport will have to stand to them in earnest."

But there was no lack of earnest in one at least of the men that he had before him, and the voice with which Elzevir said #30 was still sturdy. Maskew called #31 and #41, and Elzevir #40 and #50 and then I looked at the candle, and saw that the head of the pin was no longer level, it had sink a little - a very little. The clerk awoke from his indifference, and was making notes of the bids with a squeaking quill, the bailiff frowned as being puzzled, and thinking that noise had a right to puzzle him. As for me, I could not sit still, but got on my feet, if so I night better bear the suspense; for I understood now that Maskew had made up his mind to turn Elzevir out, and that Elzevir was fighting for his home. His home, and had he not made it my home too, and were we both to be made outcasts to please the spite of this mean little man?

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.