Read CHAPTER XII - OLD CHINA of Patty's Summer Days , free online book, by Carolyn Wells, on ReadCentral.com.

A few doors away from the country store in front of which the automobile stood, the girls saw a quaint old house, with a few toys and candies displayed for sale in a front window.

“Isn’t it funny?” said Elise, looking in at the unattractive collection.  “See that old-fashioned doll, and just look at that funny jumping-jack!”

“Yes,” said Patty, whose quick eye had caught sight of something more interesting, “but just look at that plate of peppermint candies.  The plate, I mean.  Why, Elise, it’s a Millennium plate!”

“What’s that?” said Elise, looking blank.

“A Millennium plate?  Why, Elise, it’s about the most valuable bit of old china there is in this country!  Why, Nan would go raving crazy over that.  I’d rather take it home to her than any present I could buy in the city shop.  Elise, do you suppose whoever keeps this little store would sell that plate?”

“No harm in trying,” said Elise, “there’s plenty of time, for it will take Roger half an hour to fix that belt.  Let’s go in and ask her.”

“No, no,” said Patty, “that isn’t the way.  Wait a minute.  I’ve been china hunting before, with Nan, and with other people, and you mustn’t go about it like that.  We must go in as if we were going to buy some of her other goods, and then we’ll work around to the plate by degrees.  You buy something else, Elise, and leave the plate part to me.”

“Very well, I think I’ll buy that rag doll, though I’m sure I don’t know what I’ll ever do with it.  No self-respecting child would accept it as a gift.”

“Well, buy something,” said Patty, as they went in.

The opening of the door caused a big bell to jingle, and this apparently called an old woman in from the back room.  She was not very tidy, but she was a good-natured body, and smiled pleasantly at the two girls.

“What is it, young ladies?” she asked, “can I sell you anything to-day?”

“Yes,” said Elise, gravely, “I was passing your window, and I noticed a doll there, ­that one with the blue gingham dress.  How much is it, please?”

“That one,” said the old lady, “is fifty cents.  Seems sorter high, I know, but that ’ere doll was made by a blind girl, that lives a piece up the road; and though the sewin’ ain’t very good, it’s a nine-days’ wonder that she can do it at all.  And them dolls is her only support, and land knows she don’t sell hardly any!”

“I’ll give you a dollar for it,” said Elise, impulsively, for her generous heart was touched.  “Have you any more of them?”

“No,” said the woman, in some amazement.  “Malviny, she don’t make many, ‘cause they don’t sell very rapid.  But be you goin’ her way?  She might have one to home, purty nigh finished.”

“I don’t know,” said Elise, “where does she live?”

“Straight along, on the main road.  You can’t miss it, an old yaller house, with the back burnt off.”

It was Patty’s turn now, and she said she would buy the peppermint candies that were in the window.

“All of ’em?” asked the storekeeper, in surprise.

“Yes,” said Patty, “all of them,” and as the old woman lifted the plate in from the window, Patty added, “And if you care to part with it, I’ll buy the plate too.”

“Land, Miss, that ’ere old plate ain’t no good; it’s got a crack in it, but if so be’s you admire that pattern, I’ve got another in the keeping-room that’s just like it, only ’tain’t cracked.  ’Tain’t even chipped.”

“Would you care to part with them both?” asked Patty, remembering that this phrase was the preferred formula of all china hunters.

“Laws, yes, Miss, if you care to pay for ’em.  Of course, I can’t sell ’em for nothin’, for there’s sometimes ladies as comes here, as has a fancy to them old things.  But these two plates is so humbly, that I didn’t have the face to show ’em to anybody as was lookin’ for anteeks.”

Patty’s sense of honesty would not allow her to ignore the old woman’s mistake.

“They may seem homely to you,” she said, “but I think it only right to tell you that these plates are probably the most valuable of any you have ever owned.”

“Well, for the land o’ goodness, ef you ain’t honest!  ’Tain’t many as would speak up like that!  Jest come in the back room, and look at the other plate.”

The girls followed the old woman as she raised a calico curtain of a flowered pattern, and let them through into the “keeping-room.”

“There,” she said with some pride as she took down a plate from the high mantel.  “There, you can see for yourself, there ain’t no chip or crack into it.”

Sure enough, Patty held in her hand a perfect specimen of the Millennium plate, so highly prized by collectors, and there was also the one she had seen in the window, which though slightly cracked, was still in fair condition.

“How much do you want for them?” asked Patty.

The old woman hesitated.  It was not difficult to see that, although she wanted to get as high a price as possible for her plates, yet she did not want to ask so much that Patty would refuse to take them.

“You tell me,” she said, insinuatingly, “’bout what you think them plates is worth.”

“No,” said Patty, firmly, “I never buy things that way.  You tell me your price, and then I will buy them or not as I choose.”

“Well,” said the old woman, slowly, “the last lady that I sold plates to, she give me fifty cents apiece for three of ’em, and though I think they was purtier than these here, yet you tell me these is more vallyble, and so,” here the old woman made a great show of firmness, “and so my price for these plates is a dollar apiece.”

As soon as she had said it, she looked at Patty in alarm, greatly fearing that she would not pay so much.

But Patty replied, “I will give you five dollars for the two, ­because I know that is nearer their value than the price you set.”

“Bless your good heart, and your purty face, Miss,” said the old woman, as the tears came into her eyes.  “I’m that obliged to you!  I’ll send the money straight to my son John.  He’s in the hospital, poor chap, and he needs it sore.”

Elise had rarely been brought in contact with poverty and want, and her generous heart was touched at once.  She emptied her little purse out upon the table, and was rejoiced to discover that it contained something over ten dollars.

“Please accept that,” she cried, “to buy things for your son, or for yourself, as you choose.”

The old woman was quite overcome at this kindness, and was endeavouring brokenly to express her thanks, when the bell on the shop door jangled loudly.

Patty being nearest to the calico curtain drew it aside, to find Roger in the little shop, looking very breathless and worried.

“Well, of all things,” he exclaimed.  “You girls have given us a scare.  We’ve hunted high and low through the whole of this metropolis.  And if it hadn’t been that a little girl said she saw you come in here, I suppose we’d now be dragging the brook.  Come along, quick, we’re all ready to start.”

“How could you get that belt mended so quickly?” asked Elise.

“Never mind that,” said Roger, “just come along.”

“Wait a minute,” said Patty, hastily gathering up her precious plates, while the old woman provided some newspaper wrapping.

Roger hurried the two girls back to the motor-car, saying as they went, “We’re not in any hurry to start, but Mother thinks you’re drowned, and I want to prove to her that she is mistaken.”

The sight of the car caused Patty to go off into peals of laughter.

In front of the beautiful machine was an old farm wagon, and in front of that were four horses.  On the seat of the wagon sat a nonchalant-looking farmer who seemed to take little interest in the proceedings.

“I wouldn’t ask what’s the matter for anything,” said Patty, looking at Roger, demurely, “but I suppose I am safe in assuming that you have those horses there merely because you think they look well.”

“That’s it,” said Roger.  “Nothing adds to the good effect of a motor-car like having a few fine horses attached to it.  Jump in, girls.”

The girls jumped in, and the caravan started.  It was at a decidedly different rate of speed from the way they had travelled before.  But Patty soon learned that Roger had found it impossible to fix the belt without going to a repair shop, and there was none nearer than Hartford.  With some difficulty, and at considerable expense, he had persuaded the gruff old farmer to tow them over the intervening ten miles.

Patty would have supposed that this would greatly humiliate the proud and sensitive boy, but, to her surprise, Roger treated the affair as a good joke.  He leaned back in his seat, apparently pleased with his enforced idleness, and chatted merrily as they slowly crawled along.  Occasionally he would plead with the old farmer to urge his horses a trifle faster, and even hint at certain rewards if they should reach Hartford in a given time.  But the grumpy old man was proof against coaxing or even bribing, and they jogged along, almost at a snail’s pace.

Perceiving that there was no way of improving the situation, Roger gave up trying, and turning partly around in his seat, proceeded to entertain the girls to the best of his ability.

Patty hadn’t known before what a jolly, good-natured boy Elise’s brother was, and she came to the conclusion that he had a good sense of proportion, to be able to take things so easily, and to keep his temper under such trying circumstances.

Only once did the surly old farmer address himself to his employers.  Turning around to face the occupants of the motor-car he bawled out: 

“Whar do ye wanter go in Hartford?”

“To the largest repair shop for automobiles,” answered Roger.

“Thought ye wanted ter go ter the State Insane Asylum,” was the response to this, and a suppressed chuckle could be heard, as the old man again turned his attention to his not over-speedy steeds.

Though not a very subtle jest, this greatly amused the motor party, and soon they entered the outskirts of the beautiful city of Hartford.

Mr. Farrington looked at his watch.  “I suppose,” he said, “it will take the best part of an hour to have the machine attended to, for there are two or three little matters which I want to have put in order, besides the belt.  I will stay and look after it, and the rest of you can take your choice of two proceedings.  One is, to go to a hotel, rest and freshen yourselves up a bit, and have some luncheon.  The other is, to take a carriage and drive around the city.  Hartford is a beautiful place, and if Patty has never seen it, I am sure she will enjoy it.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Mrs. Farrington, “which we do; but I’m quite sure I don’t care to eat anything more just at present.  We had our picnic not so very long ago, you know.”

“I know,” said Mr. Farrington, “but consider this.  When we start from here with the car in good order, I hope to run straight through to Warner’s.  But at best we cannot reach there before ten o’clock to-night.  So it’s really advisable that you should fortify yourselves against the long ride, for I should hate to delay matters further by stopping again for dinner.”

“Ten o’clock!” exclaimed Mrs. Farrington, “why, they expect us by seven, at latest.  It is too bad to keep them waiting like that.  Can’t we telephone to them?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Farrington, “and I will attend to that while I am waiting for the car to be fixed.  Now what would you people rather do?”

Both the girls declared they could not eat another luncheon at present, and they thought it would be delightful to drive around and see the town.

So Mrs. Farrington settled the matter by deciding to take the drive.  And then she said, “We can leave the luncheon-kit at some hotel to be filled, then we can pick it up again, and take it along with us, and when we get hungry we can eat a light supper in the car.”

“Great head, Mother!” cried Roger, “you are truly a genius!”

An open landau was engaged, and Roger and the three ladies started for the drive.  They spent a delightful hour viewing the points of interest in the city, which the obliging driver pointed out to them.

They smiled when they came to the Insane Asylum, and though the grounds looked attractive, they concluded not to go there to stay, even though their old farmer friend had seemed to think it an appropriate place for them.

“It’s a strange thing,” said Roger, “that people who do not ride in automobiles always think that people who do are crazy.  I’m sure I don’t know why.”

“I wouldn’t blame anybody for thinking Mr. Phelps crazy, if they had seen him this morning,” said Patty.

“That’s only because you’re not accustomed to seeing men in racing costume,” said Roger.  “After you’ve seen a few more rigs like that, you won’t think anything of them.”

“That’s so,” said Patty thoughtfully, “and if I had never before seen a farmer in the queer overalls, and big straw hat, that our old country gentleman wore, I daresay I should have thought his appearance quite as crazy as that of Mr. Phelps.”

“You have a logical mind, Patty,” said Mrs. Farrington, “and on the whole I think you are right.”