Chapter XX. A Great Bargain
 

Bert Bobbsey turned to look at his sister Nan. She was staring at something in the jumble of articles in the second-hand shop window, and what she saw seemed to excite Nan.

"What is it? What's the matter?" asked Bert, as Nan, once more, exclaimed:

"Look! Oh, look!"

"Is it a fire?" eagerly asked Freddie, as he wiggled about to get a better view of the window, since Bert and Nan stood so near it he could not see very well. "Is it a fire?"

"Oh, you and your fires!" laughed Nell, as she put her hands lovingly on his shoulders. "Don't you ever think of anything else?"

"Oh, is it a fire?" asked Freddie again.

"No, there isn't any fire," answered Billy, laughing, as his sister Nell was doing, at Freddie's funny ideas.

"But it's something!" insisted Flossie, who had, by this time, wiggled herself to a place beside Freddie, and so near the window that she could flatten her little nose against it.

"What is it you see, Nan?" asked Bert. "If it's more souvenirs I don't believe we can buy any. My money is 'most gone."

"Oh, but we must get these even if we have to go home for more money!" exclaimed Nan. "Look, Bert! Right near those old brass candlesticks. See that sugar bowl and pitcher?"

"I see 'em!" answered Bert.

"Don't you know whose they are?" rapidly whispered Nan. "Look at the way they're painted? And see! On the bottom of the sugar bowl is a blue lion! I can't see the letters 'J. W.' but they must be there. Oh, Bert! don't you know what this means? Can't you see? Those are Miss Pompret's missing dishes that she told us she'd give a hundred dollars to get back! And oh, Bert! we've got to go in there and buy that sugar bowl and cream pitcher, and we can take 'em back to Miss Pompret at Lakeport, and she'll give us a hundred dollars, and--and--"

But Nan was so excited and out of breath that she could not say another word. She could just manage to hold Bert's sleeve and point at the window of the second-hand shop.

At last Bert "woke up," as he said afterward. His eyes opened wider, and he stared with all his might at what Nan was pointing toward. There, surely enough, among some old candlesticks, a pair of andirons, a bellows for blowing a fire, was a sugar bowl and cream pitcher. And it needed only a glance to make Bert feel sure that the two pieces of china were decorated just as were Miss Pompret's.

But there was something more than this. The sugar bowl was turned over so that the bottom part was toward the street. And on the bottom, plainly to be seen, was a circle of gold. Inside the circle was a picture of some animal in blue, and Nan, at least, felt sure it was a blue lion. As she had said, no letters could be seen, but they might be there.

"Don't you see, Bert?" asked Nan, as her brother waited several seconds before speaking. "Don't you see that those are Miss Pompret's dishes?"

"Well," admitted the Bobbsey lad, "they look like 'em."

"They surely are!" declared Nan. "Oh, I'm so excited! Let's go right in and buy them. Then we'll get a hundred dollars!"

She darted away from Bert's side, and was about to move toward the door of the shop when Billy caught her by the coat sleeve.

"Wait a minute, Nan," he said.

"What for?" she asked.

"Until Bert and I talk this over," went on Billy, who, though he was not much older than Nan, seemed to be, perhaps because he had lived in a large city all his life. "You don't want to rush in and buy those dishes so quick."

"Why not?" demanded Nan. "If I don't get 'em somebody else may, and you know Miss Pompret offered a reward of a hundred dollars. These are the two pieces missing from her set. Her set is 'broken' as she calls it, if she doesn't have this sugar bowl and pitcher."

"Yes, I remember your telling me about Miss Pompret's reward," said Billy. "But you'd better go a bit slow."

"Maybe somebody else'll buy 'em!" exclaimed Nan.

"Oh, I don't believe they will," said Nell, "This is a quiet street, and this shop doesn't do much business. We only come here once in a while because some things are cheaper. We never bought any second-hand things."

"There's nobody coming down the street now," observed Bert, who was beginning to agree with Billy in the matter. "If we see any one going in that we think will buy the dishes, we can hurry in ahead of 'em. We'll stand here and talk a minute. What is it you want to say, Billy?"

"Well, it's like this," went on the Washington boy. "I know these second-hand men. If they think you want a thing they'll charge you a lot of money for it. But if they think you don't want it very much they will let you have it cheap. I know, 'cause a fellow and I wanted to get a baseball glove in here one day. It was a second-hand one, but good. The fellow I was with knew just how to do it.

"He went in, and asked the price of a lot of things, and said they were all too high. Then he asked the price of the glove, just as if he didn't care much whether he got it or not. The man said it was a dollar, but when Jimmie--the boy who was with me--said he only had eighty cents, the man let him have the glove for that."

"Oh, I see what you mean!" cried Nan. "You mean we must try to get a bargain."

"Yes," said Billy. "Otherwise, if you go in and want to buy those dishes first thing, the man may want five dollars for 'em."

"Oh, we haven't that much money!" cried Nan, much surprised.

"That's why I say we must go slow," said Billy. "Now you leave this to me and Bert."

"I think it would be a good idea," declared Nell.

"All right! I will," agreed Nan. "But, oh, I do hope we can get those dishes for Miss Pompret."

"And I hope we can get the reward of a hundred dollars," murmured Bert.

"I only hope they're the right dishes," said Billy.

"Oh, I'm sure they are," declared Nan. They have the blue lion on and everything. And if they have the letters 'J. W.' on, then we'll know for sure. Let's go in and see."

"We've got to go slow," declared Billy. "Mustn't be too fast. Let Bert and me go ahead."

"I want to come in, too!" declared Freddie. "I want to buy a whistle. Do they have whistles in here?"

"I guess so," answered Bert. "It will be a good thing to go in and ask for, anyhow."

"Sort of excuse for going in," suggested Nell.

"Do they have ice cream cones?" asked Flossie. "I want something to eat."

"I don't believe they have anything to eat in here," said Nell. "But we can get that later, Flossie. Now you and Freddie be nice when we go in, and after we come out I'll get you some ice cream."

"I'll be good!" promised Flossie.

"So'll I," agreed Freddie. "But I want a whistle, and if they have a little fire engine I want that."

"You don't want much!" laughed Bert.

"Well, let's go in!" suggested Billy.

So, with the two boys in the lead, followed by Nell and Nan and Flossie and Freddie, the children entered the second-hand and souvenir store.

A bell on the door rang with a loud clang as Billy opened it, and when the children stepped inside the shop an old man with a black, curly beard and long black hair that seemed as if it had never been combed, came out from a back room.

"What you want to buy, little childrens?" he asked. "I got a lot of nice things, cheap! Very cheap!"

"Well, if you've got something very cheap we might buy it," answered Billy, with as nearly a grown-up manner as he could assume. "But we haven't much money."

"Ha! Ha! That's what they all say!" exclaimed the old man. "But everybody has more money that what I has. I'm very poor. I don't hardly make a living I sell things so cheap. What you want to buy, little childrens?"

"Have you got any whistles or fire engines?" burst out Freddie, unable to wait any longer.

"Whistles? Lots of 'em!" exclaimed the man. "Here is a finest whistle what ever was. Listen to it!"

He took one from the show case and blew into it. Not a sound came out.

"Ach! I guess that one is damaged," he said. "But I got other ones. Here! Listen to this!"

The next one blew loud and shrill.

"I want that!" cried Freddie.

"Ten cents!" said the man, holding it out to the little boy.

"What?" cried Billy. "Why, I can buy those whistles for five cents anywhere in Washington! Ten cents? I guess not!"

"Oh, well, take it for seven cents then," said the man. "What I care if I die poor. Take it for seven cents!"

"No, sir!" exclaimed Billy firmly. "Five cents is all they cost, and this is an old one."

"Oh, well. Take it for five then. What I care if you cheats a poor old man? Such a boy as you are! Take it for five cents!" and he handed the whistle to Freddie. But before he could take it Nan said, gently:

"I think it would be better for him to have a fresh one from the box. That is all dusty."

The truth was she did not want Freddie to take a whistle the old man had blown into.

"Oh, well, I gives you a fresh one," he said, and he took a new and shining one from the box. Freddie blew it, making a shrill sound.

"What else you want to buy, little childrens?" asked the old man. "I sell everythings cheap--everythings!"

"Ask how much the dishes are," whispered Nan to Billy. But he shook his head, and looked around the shop. He looked everywhere but at the window where the dishes were.

"Any sailboats?" asked Billy, as if that was all he had come in to inquire about.

"Sailboats?" cried the man. "Sailboats?"

"Yes, toy sailboats."

"No, I haven't got any of them, but I got a nice football. Here I show you!"

"I don't want a football. You can't play football when the snow is on the ground!" exclaimed Bert, as the man started toward some shelves on the other side of the room.

"I want a doll," whispered Flossie. "Just a little doll."

"A doll!" exclaimed the man. "Sure I gots a fine lot of dolls. See!"

Quickly he held out a large one with very blue eyes and hair just like Flossie's.

"Only a dollar seventy-five," he said. "Very cheap!"

"Oh, that's too much!" exclaimed Nan. "We haven't that much money. She wants only a little ten-cent doll."

"Oh, well, I have them kinds too!" said the man, in disappointed tones. "Here you are!"

He held out one that did not appear to be very nice.

"You can get those for five cents in the other stores," whispered Nell.

"Better take it," said her brother. "Then I'll ask about the dishes."

"Yes, we'll take it," agreed Nan.

So Flossie was given her doll, and, even though it might have been only five cents somewhere else, she liked it just as well.

"What else you wants to buy, childrens?" asked the old man. "I got lots more things so cheap--oh, so very cheap!"

Billy and Bert strolled over to the window. They looked down in. Nan crowded to their side. She felt sure, now, that the two pieces of china were the very ones Miss Pompret wanted. If they could only get that sugar bowl and pitcher!

"I wish you had a sailboat!" murmured Billy, as if that was all he cared about. Then, turning to Nan he asked: "Would you like that sugar bowl and pitcher?"

"Oh, yes, I think I would!" she exclaimed, trying not to make her voice seem too eager.

"You might have a play party with them," Billy went on. If Miss Pompret could have heard him then I feel sure she would have fainted, or had what Dinah would call "a cat in a fit."

"You want those dishes?" asked the old man, as he reached over and lifted the sugar bowl and pitcher from his window. "Ach! them is a great bargain. I let you have them cheap. And see, not a chip or a crack on 'em. Good china, too! Very valuable, but they is all I have left. I sells 'em cheap."

Bert took the sugar bowl and looked closely at it, while Nan took the pitcher. The children felt sure these were the same pieces that would fill out Miss Pompret's set.

"Look at the mark on the bottom," whispered Nan to Bert, as the storekeeper hurried to the other side of the room to rescue a pile of chairs which Freddie seemed bent on pulling down. "Is the blue lion there?"

"Yes," answered Bert, "it is."

"And the letters 'J. W.'?"

"Yes," Bert replied. "But, somehow, it doesn't look like the one on Miss Pompret's plates."

"Oh, I'm sure it's the same one!" insisted Nan. "We've found the missing pieces, Bert, and we'll get--"

"Hush!" cautioned Billy, for the old man was coming back.

"You want to buy them?" he asked. "I sell cheap. It's a great bargain."

"Where did they come from?" asked Bert.

"Come from? How shoulds I know. Maybe I get 'em at a fire sale, or maybe all the other dishes in that set get broken, and these all what are left. Somebody bring 'em in, and I buys 'em, or my wife she buys 'em. How can I tells so long ago?"

"Oh, well, maybe we might take 'em for the girls to have a play party with their own set of dishes," went on Billy. "But I wish you had a toy ship. How much for these dishes--this sugar bowl and pitcher?"

"How much? Oh, I let you have these very cheap. They is worth five dollars--very rare china--very thin but hard to break. These is a good bargain--a great bargain. You shall have them for--two dollars!"