Chapter Seven A RUNAWAY ‘BOAT’

VEVI and Connie offered to go with Hanny to recover the missing wooden shoe. They thought it odd, however, that the Mattox couple should be so strict about anyone walking on their land.

“Is it safe to go in the boat?” questioned Connie as the children walked back to the canal.

“Oh, yes, the water isn’t deep,” Hanny replied. “I will get the oars.”

She ran to the barn, returning with them in a moment. Then she untied the boat and climbed in.

All of the Brownies were eager for a ride on the canal. Hanny though, could not take everyone.

“Vevi and Connie spoke first,” she said. “So I will take them.”

The two Brownies stepped into the boat with their armful of tulip blooms. By this time the flowers had wilted a bit. Vevi dipped the stems into the canal for a moment and then put the bouquets on the bottom of the boat.

As she bent down she noticed that a little water was seeping in through the boards.

“Say, I think this old boat is leaking!” she cried.

“It always does a little,” Hanny replied, picking up the oars.

Vevi and Connie moved their feet so that their shoes would not get wet.

“Shove us off,” Hanny urged the Brownies who had remained ashore.

Jane gave the boat a mighty push. Out it shot into the current. For a moment, before slowing down, the craft went almost as fast as if it had a motor.

“Say, this is fun!” shouted Vevi.

Jane, Rosemary and Sunny ran along the bank beside the boat. When they reached the fence that separated Mr. Van Der Lann’s property from the Mattox farm, they had to stop.

Hanny began to row. She handled the oars very well and kept the boat steady in the middle of the canal.

“Say, this old boat is leaking fast!” Vevi observed very soon. “My feet are getting wet.”

“So are mine,” declared Connie, shifting to another place in the boat.

Hanny told Vevi to look for a bailing can under the seat. The container could not be found.

“I remember, I used it for something else last week and forgot to put it back,” Hanny admitted.

Vevi and Connie began to squirm nervously. The water was not deep but it kept spreading over the bottom of the boat.

“I want out of this old tub,” Vevi suddenly announced. “It is going to sink!”

Hanny insisted that the boat was safe. “I can’t let you out because we are at the Mattox place now,” she added. “We will soon have that runaway shoe and be back home.”

Vevi and Connie forgot the leaking boat as they looked about with interest. From the Van Der Lann place tall trees and bushes had screened their view of the other nursery.

Now they saw the big greenhouse with its glass roof and a small cottage very much in need of paint. A few tulips were in bloom, but the flowers were not as large or as showy as those on Peter’s place.

“The Mattoxes lived here before my uncle started his nursery,” Hanny told her friends. “They were annoyed when he bought land next to their property. They had expected to add it to their own place.”

“Is that Mrs. Mattox?” Connie asked. She had noticed a woman in a blue straw hat working in the fields.

“Her name is Freda,” Hanny said. “If she sees us, she may speak crossly. She does not like me or Uncle Peter.”

“Say, my feet are wet!” Vevi suddenly cried.

“The water is coming into this boat faster and faster,” Connie declared uneasily. “Hanny, you must pull up on shore.”

“Mrs. Mattox won’t like it.”

“Who cares about her?” Vevi demanded. “We are getting wet, Hanny.”

The little Dutch girl guided the boat to a sandy stretch of beach along the canal. After Connie and Vevi had leaped out, she pulled the craft up on shore so it would not drift away.

“Mrs. Mattox has seen us,” Hanny said, glancing over her shoulder. “Oh! Oh! She has dropped her hoe and is coming this way.”

“Let’s get the wooden shoe as fast as we can and run!” Vevi urged.

Abandoning the boat, the children ran to the clutter of debris where the runaway shoe had caught fast.

But when Connie tried to capture it, she only succeeded in setting it free. Off it floated again down the canal.

“Hey, come back here, shoe!” she cried.

The “boat” drifted lazily along until finally it lodged against a footbridge.

“Now we can get it,” declared Vevi.

“And Mrs. Mattox will get us,” added Hanny nervously. “She is walking straight to our boat.”

The children walked quickly out on the footbridge. The narrow planking bent under their weight and dipped low into the water.

“It’s going to break!” Vevi exclaimed fearfully.

“Oh, a footbridge always wobbles,” Connie reassured her. “Here, hold my hand while I grab the old shoe.”

Vevi steadied her so she could bend down and rescue the shoe.

“Now back to the boat!” Hanny urged. “We are going to get a scolding, I can tell you.”

Mrs. Mattox did not pay very much attention to the three girls as they hurried up the canal. In fact, she seemed deeply engrossed examining something in the bottom of the boat.

“What is she doing?” Vevi asked curiously.

“Maybe she is trying to stop the leak in our boat,” Connie speculated.

Hanny however, had sharper eyes.

“She is looking at our tulips,” she told her companions. “Just see her poking about among the blossoms.”

“Why would she do that?” Vevi whispered. By this time the children had drawn quite close to the boat.

“She’s trying to see what varieties Uncle Peter is raising this year,” Hanny declared. “I think she is hoping to find out if we have a tulip that will win the blue ribbon.”

Mrs. Mattox had heard the children come up. She straightened, dropping a red tulip.

For a minute the girls thought she intended to scold them for coming onto her property. Instead, she merely stared at them.

“Our boat is leaking,” Hanny said politely. “That is why we walked on your land.”

“It isn’t the first time you have done it,” the woman answered. She kept eyeing the tulips in the boat.

“Hanny gave us some flowers,” Connie said to make conversation. She always tried to be friendly with everyone. “Aren’t they beautiful?”

“Humph! Very ordinary tulips I would say,” replied Mrs. Mattox. “Which one is your uncle entering in the flower show, Hanny?”

“I cannot say, Mrs. Mattox.”

“None of these, I’d judge.”

Hanny remained silent. Her unwillingness to talk angered the woman.

“How many times have I told you not to come onto my property?” she berated the children. “You tramp the flowers and damage our plantings.”

Hanny knew the accusations were unfair. It was true, though, that she had been told repeatedly not to trespass.

“We are leaving now,” she said.

“Take this leaky old tub with you,” Mrs. Mattox ordered crossly. “You will have to tow it back by the rope because it is becoming waterlogged. Now, begone!”

Hanny seized the rope and started to pull the boat alongshore. Mrs. Mattox followed close behind to see that she did not do any damage.

“I am sorry about the boat,” Hanny apologized again. “My uncle plans soon to build a new one.”

“Such foolishness!” the nurseryman’s wife exclaimed. “First it was a windmill! What will it be next? Always foolishness.”

“I like the windmill,” Vevi said, speaking in Peter’s defense. “His farm is very pretty. It is nicer than this one.”

Now the little girl should not have made the remark. She was sorry the moment she had said the words. Mrs. Mattox lost her temper at once.

“Oh, so Peter Van Der Lann has a better nursery than ours!” she exclaimed. “Well, let me tell you something! He won’t have it long. Everyone in Rosedale knows that he is deeply in debt. He will lose his farm, and then where will he be?”

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