Penelope Hawthorne sat in the school-room window-seat at Easney Vicarage, one afternoon, looking very gravely out at the garden.
She had sat there for some time, with her hands in her lap and a little troubled frown on her forehead, and anyone who knew her well would have guessed at once that she was thinking over a “plan.”
Penelope was just thirteen years old, the eldest of the Hawthorne children, and as she was a thoughtful girl and fond of reading, she often made very good plans for her brothers and sisters’ amusement, partly out of her own head, and partly out of books. But this particular plan quite puzzled her, for it had nothing to do with amusement, and she did not at all see how it was to be carried out. Yet it was much too good to be given up.
The plan was this. To buy a new Chinese mandarin for Miss Unity Cheffins.
Now Miss Unity was Pennie’s godmother, and lived in the Cathedral Close at Nearminster, which was two miles away from the village of Easney. Amongst her knick-knacks and treasures there used to be a funny little china figure called a mandarin which had always stood on her sitting-room mantel-piece since the children could remember anything. This had unfortunately been broken by a friend of Pennie’s whilst the two girls were on a visit at Nearminster; and though it had not been her fault, Pennie felt as if she were responsible for the accident. She found out that her godmother had a great affection for the queer little mandarin, and it made her sorry whenever she went to Nearminster to see his place empty, and to think that he would never nod his head any more.
She felt all the more sorry when one day, in the cupboard by the fireplace, she caught sight of a little heap of china fragments which she knew were the remains of the poor mandarin, and saw by the bottle of cement near that her godmother had been trying vainly to stick him together. After this she began to wonder whether it would be possible to replace Miss Unity’s favourite. Could she, if she saved all her money, get another figure exactly like it? Where were such things to be bought? No doubt in London, where, she had heard her father say, you could get anything in the world. It would therefore be easy to get another mandarin so like the first that Miss Unity would hardly know the difference, and to set it up on the mantel-piece in her room.
Pennie thought and thought, until this beautiful idea grew to perfect proportions in her mind. She pictured Miss Unity’s surprise and pleasure, and had settled the new mandarin in all his glory at Nearminster, before one serious drawback occurred to her—want of money. If she were to save up her money for years, she would not have enough, for though she did not know the cost of the figure, she had heard it spoken of as “valuable.” What a very long time it would be before sixpence a week would buy anything you could call “valuable!” Pennie did not see her way out of it at all, though she worked endless sums on scraps of paper, and worried over it both in play-hours and lesson-time....