He had a brown-paper parcel with him, a big one, and I thought to myself, ‘Suppose he’s brought his bowl and is wishful to sell it.’ I got those things through the blue-water pretty quick, I can tell you. I often wish I could get a maid who would work as fast as I used to when I was a girl. Then I ran up and asked aunt if she could spare me to run down to the shop for some sago, and I put on my sunbonnet and ran up, just as I was, to the church porch. The old gentleman was skipping with impatience. I’ve heard of people skipping with impatience, but I never saw any one do it before.
‘Now, look here,’ he said, ’I want you—I must—oh, I don’t know which way to begin, I have so many things to say. I want to see your aunt, and ask her to let me buy her china.’
‘You may save your trouble,’ I said, ’for she’ll never do it. She’s left her china to me in her will,’ I said.
Not that I was quite sure of it, but still I was sure enough to say so. The old gentleman put down his brown-paper parcel on the porch seat as careful as if it had been a sick child, and said—
’But your aunt won’t leave you anything if she knows you have broken the bowl, will she?’
‘No,’ I said, ’she won’t, that’s true, and you can tell her if you like.’ For I knew very well he wouldn’t.
‘Well,’ says he, speaking very slowly, ’if I lent you my bowl, you could pretend it’s hers and she’ll never know the difference, for they are as like as two peas. I can tell the difference, of course, but then I’m a collector. If I lend you the bowl, will you promise and vow in writing, and sign it with your name, to sell all that china to me directly it comes into your possession? Good gracious, girl, it will be hundreds of pounds in your pocket.’
That was a sad moment for me. I might have taken the bowl and promised and vowed, and then when the china came to me I might have told him I hadn’t the power to sell it; but that wouldn’t have looked well if any one had come to know of it. So I just said straight out—
’The only condition of my having my aunt’s money is, that I never part with the china.’
He was silent a minute, looking out of the porch at the green trees waving about in the sunshine over the gravestones, and then he says—
’Look here, you seem an honourable girl. I am a collector. I buy china and keep it in cases and look at it, and it’s more to me than meat, or drink, or wife, or child, or fire—do you understand? And I can no more bear to think of that china being lost to the world in a cottage instead of being in my collection than you can bear to think of your aunt’s finding out about the bowl, and leaving the money to your cousin Sarah.’
Of course, I knew by that that he had been gossiping in the village.
‘Well?’ I said, for I saw that he had something more on his mind.
‘I’m an old man,’ he went on, ’but that need not stand in the way. Rather the contrary, for I shall be less trouble to you than a young husband. Will you marry me out of hand? And then when your aunt dies the china will be mine, and you will be well provided for.’