“Apparently you are willing to give it rather than let the purchase go,” observed Mr Baker drily. “For aught you know both these gentlemen may be desiring it for a building site. Did I hear one of them say two-seventy-five? Captain—er—Hunken, if I caught the name?”
“Two-eighty,” persisted Cai.
“Well, make it three hundred, and I’ve done!” groaned Mr Middlecoat collapsing.
“What’s all this?” interrupted a voice, very sweet and cool in the doorway.
“Mrs Bosenna?—Your servant, ma’am!” Mr Dewy rose halfway in his seat and made obeisance. “We are dealing with a lot which may concern you, ma’am; for it runs “—he consulted his map—“Yes—I thought so—right alongside your property at Rilla. A trifle over two acres, ma’am, and Mr Middlecoat has just bid three hundred for it.”
“And”—began Cai: but Mrs Bosenna (taken though she must have been by surprise) was quick and frowned him to silence.
“And a deal more than its value, as Captain Hocken was about to say. Will any fool bid more for such a patch?”
Cai and ’Bias stared together, interrogating her. But there was no further bid, and Mr Dewy knocked down the lot at 300 pounds.
“Which,” said Mrs Bosenna meditatively to Dinah that night, “you may call two hundred and fifty clean thrown into the sea. And the worst is that though Captain Hocken and Captain Hunken are a pair of fools and Mr Middlecoat a bigger fool than either—as it turns out, I’m the biggest fool of all.”
“Why, you ninny! They were buying, one against the other, to make me a present, and I stepped in and saved young Middlecoat’s face. Yet,” she mused, “I don’t see what else he could have done. . . . Well, thank the Lord! he’ll be humble now, which the others were and he wasn’t.”
“He’s young, anyway,” urged Dinah.
“That’s something,” her mistress conceded. “It gives the more time to rub in his foolishness, and he’ll never hear the last of it.”
“Three hundred pounds, too!” ejaculated Dinah. “The very sound of it frightens me. A terrible sum to throw to waste!”
“I wouldn’t say that altogether. . . . Yes, you may unlace me. What fools men are!”
THE LAST CHALLENGE.
Next Lady-day, which fell on a Thursday, ’Bias called upon Mrs Bosenna with his rent and with the pleasing announcement that in a week or so he proposed to pay her a further sum of seven pounds eight shillings and fourpence; this being the ascertained half-year’s dividend earned by the hundred pounds she had entrusted to his stewardship.
She warmly commended him. “Close upon fifteen per cent! I wonder— But there! I suppose you won’t tell me how it’s done, not if I ask ever so?”
’Bias looked knowing and reminded her that to ask no questions was a part of her bargain. As a matter of fact it was also a part of his bargain with Mr Rogers, and he could not have told had he wished to tell.