Well, the Dowager and the Duchess sized each other up, and, recognizing I jedge, that they was sister ships, set signals and agreed to cruise in company and watch out for pirates—meaning young men without money who might want to talk to their daughters. In a week the four women was thicker than hasty-pudding and had thrones on the piazza where they could patronize everybody short of the Creator, and criticize the other boarders. Milo and Eddie got friendly too, and found a harbor behind the barn where they could smoke and swap sympathy.
’Twas fair weather for pretty near a fortni’t, and then she thickened up. The special brand of craziness in Wellmouth that season was collecting “antiques,” the same being busted chairs and invalid bureaus and sofys that your great grandmarm got ashamed of and sent to the sickbay a thousand year ago. Oh, yes, and dishes! If there was one thing that would drive a city woman to counting her fingers and cutting paper dolls, ’twas a nicked blue plate with a Chinese picture on it. And the homelier the plate the higher the price. Why there was as many as six families that got enough money for the rubbage in their garrets to furnish their houses all over with brand new things—real shiny, hand-painted stuff, not haircloth ruins with music box springs, nor platters that you had to put a pan under for fear of losing cargo.
I don’t know who fetched the disease to the Old Home House. All I’m sartain of is that ’twan’t long afore all hands was in that condition where the doctor’d have passed ’em on to the parson. First along it seemed as if the Thompson-Small syndicate had been vaccinated—they didn’t develop a symptom. But one noon the Dowager sails into the dining-room and unfurls a brown paper bundle.
“I’ve captured a prize, my dear,” says she to the Duchess. “A veritable prize. Just look!”
And she dives under the brown paper hatches and resurrects a pink plate, suffering from yaller jaundice, with the picture of a pink boy, wearing curls and a monkey-jacket, holding hands with a pink girl with pointed feet.
“Ain’t it perfectly lovely?” says she, waving the outrage in front of the Duchess. “A ginuwine Hall nappy! And in such condition!”
“Why,” says the Duchess, “I didn’t know you were interested in antiques.”
“I dote on ’em,” comes back the Dowager, and “my daughter” owned up that she “adored” ’em.
“If you knew,” continues Mrs. Thompson, “how I’ve planned and contrived to get this treasure. I’ve schemed— My! my! My daughter says she’s actually ashamed of me. Oh, no! I can’t tell even you where I got it. All’s fair in love and collecting, you know, and there are more gems where this came from.”
She laughed and “my daughter” laughed, and the Duchess and “Irene dear” laughed, too, and said the plate was “So quaint,” and all that, but you could fairly hear ’em turn green with jealousy. It didn’t need a spyglass to see that they wouldn’t ride easy at their own moorings till they’d landed a treasure or two—probably two.