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The Old Wives' Tale

II.7. Bricks And Mortar
I
In the summer of that year the occurrence of a white rash of posters on
hoardings and on certain houses and shops, was symptomatic of organic change
in the town. The posters were iterations of a mysterious announcement and
summons, which began with the august words: "By Order of the Trustees of the
late William Clews Mericarp, Esq." Mericarp had been a considerable owner of
property in Bursley. After a prolonged residence at Southport, he had died, at the
age of eighty-two, leaving his property behind. For sixty years he had been a
name, not a figure; and the news of his death, which was assuredly an event,
incited the burgesses to gossip, for they had come to regard him as one of the
invisible immortals. Constance was shocked, though she had never seen
Mericarp. ("Everybody dies nowadays!" she thought.) He owned the Baines-
Povey shop, and also Mr. Critchlow's shop. Constance knew not how often her
father and, later, her husband, had renewed the lease of those premises that
were now hers; but from her earliest recollections rose a vague memory of her
father talking to her mother about 'Mericarp's rent,' which was and always had
been a hundred a year. Mericarp had earned the reputation of being 'a good
landlord.' Constance said sadly: "We shall never have another as good!" When a
lawyer's clerk called and asked her to permit the exhibition of a poster in each of
her shop-windows, she had misgivings for the future; she was worried; she
decided that she would determine the lease next year, so as to be on the safe
side; but immediately afterwards she decided that she could decide nothing.
The posters continued: "To be sold by auction, at the Tiger Hotel at six-thirty for
seven o'clock precisely." What six-thirty had to do with seven o'clock precisely no
one knew. Then, after stating the name and credentials of the auctioneer, the
posters at length arrived at the objects to be sold: "All those freehold messuages
and shops and copyhold tenements namely." Houses were never sold by auction
in Bursley. At moments of auction burgesses were reminded that the erections
they lived in were not houses, as they had falsely supposed, but messuages.
Having got as far as 'namely' the posters ruled a line and began afresh: "Lot I. All
that extensive and commodious shop and messuage with the offices and
appurtenances thereto belonging situate and being No. 4 St. Luke's Square in
the parish of Bursley in the County of Stafford and at present in the occupation of
Mrs. Constance Povey widow under a lease expiring in September 1889." Thus
clearly asserting that all Constance's shop was for sale, its whole entirety, and
not a fraction or slice of it merely, the posters proceeded: "Lot 2. All that
extensive and commodious shop and messuage with the offices and
appurtenances thereto belonging situate and being No. 3 St. Luke's Square in
the parish of Bursley in the County of Stafford and at present in the occupation of
Charles Critchlow chemist under an agreement for a yearly tenancy." The
catalogue ran to fourteen lots. The posters, lest any one should foolishly imagine
that a non-legal intellect could have achieved such explicit and comprehensive
clarity of statement, were signed by a powerful firm of solicitors in Hanbridge.
Happily in the Five Towns there were no metaphysicians; otherwise the firm
 
 
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