Chapter V. "What a Lot of Money!"
 

Bert and Nan sat up very straight on the chairs in Miss Pompret's dining room, and looked first at her and then at the china closet with its shiny, glass doors. Miss Pompret sat up very straight, too, in her chair, and she, also, looked first from Nan and Bert to the wonderful china, which seemed made partly of egg shells, so fine it was and pretty.

Miss Pompret's dining room was one in which it seemed every one had to sit up straight, and in which every chair had to be in just the right place, where the table legs must keep very straight, too, and where not even a corner of a rug dared to be turned up. In fact it was a very straight, old-fashioned but very beautiful dining room, and Miss Pompret herself was an old-fashioned but beautiful lady.

"Now if you will sit very still, and not move, I'll bring out some pieces of my china set and show them to you," said Miss Pompret. "You were so kind as to take the letter to the post-office for me when I could not go myself, that I feel I ought to reward you to some way."

"The chocolate cake was enough," said Nan.

"Yes, it was awful good!" sighed Bert.

"Mother told you not to say 'awful,'" interposed Ben's sister.

"Oh, well, I mean it was terribly nice!" exclaimed the boy.

"I'm glad you liked it," went on Miss Pompret with a smile. "But I must not keep you too long, or your mother will be wondering what has become of you. But I thought you, Nan, would be interested in seeing beautiful china. You'll have a home of your own, some day, and nothing is nicer in a nice home than beautiful dishes."

"I know that!" cried Nan. "My mamma has some very beautiful dishes, and once in a great while she lets me look them over. Sometimes, too, we have them on the table--when it's some special occasion like a birthday or visitors."

"I don't much like to see the real nice dishes on a table," remarked Bert. "I'm always afraid that I'll break one of them, and then I know my mother would feel pretty bad over it."

"You must be careful, my boy. You can't handle nice china as you can your baseball or your football," said Miss Pompret, with a smile.

"Well, I guess they couldn't treat dishes like baseballs and footballs!" cried Nan. "Just think of throwing a sugar bowl up into the air or hitting it with a bat, or kicking a teapot all around the lots!"

"That certainly wouldn't be very nice," said Miss Pompret.

She went over to the closet, unlocked the glass doors, and set some of the rare pieces out on the lace cover of the dining room table. Bert and Nan saw that Miss Pompret handled each piece as though it might be crushed, even in her delicate hands, which were almost as white and thin as a piece of china.

"This is the wonderful Pompret tableware," went on the old lady. "It has been in my family over a hundred years. My great-grandfather had it, and now it has come to me. I have had it a number of years, and I think more of it than anything else I have. Of course, if I had any little children I would care for them more than for these dishes," went on Miss Pompret. "But I'm a lonely old lady, and you neighborhood children are the only ones I have," and she smiled rather wistfully at Nan and Bert.

Carefully dish after dish was taken from the closet and set out for the Bobbsey twins to look at. They did not venture to so much as touch one. The china seemed too easily broken for that.

"I should think you'd have to be very careful when you washed those dishes," remarked Nan, as she saw how light glowed through the side of one of the thin cups.

"Oh, I am," answered Miss Pompret. "No one ever washes this set but me. My maid is very careful, but I would not allow her to touch a single piece. I don't use it very often. Only when some old and dear friends come to see me is the Pompret china used. And then I am sorry to say, I can not use the whole set."

"Why not?" asked Bert. "Are you afraid they'll break it?"

"Oh no," and Miss Pompret smiled. "I'm not afraid of that. But you see I haven't the whole set, so I can't show it all. One of the sorrows of my life is that part of my beautiful set of china is missing."

"There's a lot of it, though," added Bert, as he saw a number of shelves covered with the rare plates, cups and saucers.

"Yes, but the sugar bowl and cream pitcher are missing," went on Miss Pompret, with a shake of her white head. "They were beautiful. But, alas! they are missing." And she sighed deeply.

"Where are they?" asked Nan.

"Ah, that's the mystery I am going to tell you about," said Miss Pompret. "It isn't a very big story, and I won't keep you long. It isn't often I get a chance to tell it, so you must forgive an old lady for keeping you from your play," and again she smiled, in rather a sad fashion, at Nan and Bert.

"Oh, we like it here!" exclaimed Nan quickly.

"It's lots of fun!" added Bert. "I like to hear about a mystery."

"Well," began Miss Pompret, "as I told you, this set of china has been in our family over a hundred years. It was made in England, and each piece has the mark of the man who made it. See, this is what I mean."

She turned over one of the cups and showed the Bobbsey twins where, on the bottom, there was the stamp, in blue, of some animal in a circle of gold.

"That is the mark of the Waredon factory, where this china was made," went on Miss Pompret. "Only china made by Mr. Waredon can have this mark on it."

"It looks like our dog Snap," said Bert.

"Oh, no!" laughed Miss Pompret. "That is supposed to be the British lion. Mr. Waredon took that as a trade-mark, and at the top of the golden circle, with the blue lion inside, you can see the letter 'J' while at the bottom is the letter 'W.' They stand for the name Jonathan Waredon, in whose English factory the china was made. Each piece has this mark on it, and no other make of china in the world can be rightfully marked like that.

"Well, now about the mystery. Some years ago, before you children were born, I lived in another city. I had the china set there with me, and then it was complete. I had the cream pitcher and the sugar bowl. One day a ragged man came to the house. He was very ragged and poor. I suppose you would call him a tramp.

"The cook I then had felt sorry for him, and let him come into the kitchen to have something to eat. As it happened, part of my rare china set was on a table in the same room. I was getting ready to wash it myself, as I would let no one else touch it.

"Well, when I came out to wash my beautiful dishes the sugar bowl and cream pitcher of the set were gone. They had been on the table when the tramp was eating the lunch the cook gave him, but now they could not be found. The cook and I looked all over for them--we searched the house, in fact, but never found them."

"Who took them?" asked Bert, eagerly.

"Well, my dear boy, I have never found out. The cook always said the tramp put the sugar bowl and cream pitcher in his pocket when her back was turned to get him a cup of coffee. At any rate, when he was gone the two pieces were gone also, and while I do not want to think badly of any one, I have come to believe that the tramp took my rare dishes."

"Didn't you ever see him again?" asked Nan.

"No, my dear, never, as far as I know."

"And did you never find the dishes?" Bert wanted to know.

"Never. I advertised for them. I inquired if any boys in the neighborhood might have slipped in and taken them for a joke, but I never found them. To this day," went on Miss Pompret, "I have never again set eyes on my cream pitcher and sugar bowl. They disappeared as completely and suddenly as though they had fallen down a hole in the earth. The tramp may have taken them; but what would he do with just two pieces? They were too frail for him to use. A man like that would want heavy dishes. Perhaps he knew how valuable they were and perhaps he intended asking a reward for bringing them back. But I never heard from him.

"So that is why my rare set of Pompret china is not complete. The two pieces are missing and I would give a hundred dollars this minute if I could get them back!"

"A--a hundred dollars!" exclaimed Bert.

"Yes, my boy. If some one would get me that sugar bowl and pitcher, with the mark of the lion in a golden circle, and the initials 'J' at the top and 'W' at the bottom, I would willingly pay one hundred dollars," said Miss Pompret.

"A--a whole hundred dollars!" gasped Bert. "What a lot of money!"