Chapter 3 MR. PIFF’S PLAN

VEVI and Connie hastened after Hanny as fast as they could. Breathlessly, the three children reached the veranda where Peter Van Der Lann and Mr. Piff were talking.

“I want no part of it,” Mr. Van Der Lann said firmly. “My nursery is not yet profitable. I have no money to donate to your show.”

“It will be a money making proposition for you,” the promoter argued. “We’ll bring folks here to your farm—charge admission. They’ll see your fine tulips in bloom and order bulbs. Your business will boom.”

“No part of it for me,” Mr. Van Der Lann repeated.

At that Mr. Piff again lost patience.

“You are a stubborn Dutchman!” he exclaimed. “You come to America with only one thought—to make money!”

The children thought that Peter meant to strike the promoter, he became so angry. His ruddy face flushed an even darker hue and he drew in his breath sharply.

“You insult me,” he said. “Leave my farm! Leave it at once, and don’t come back!”

“Okay, okay, Dutchman,” Mr. Piff muttered, backing away. “Just keep your shirt on! I meant no offense.”

Miss Mohr and Miss Gordon had been deeply distressed by the turn of the conversation. They apologized to Peter, telling him that they did not know Mr. Piff well. They said too, that they were sorry they had brought him to the farm to cause trouble.

“The fault is mine,” said Peter, smiling warmly. “It is my hot temper again! You must forgive me. I did not mean to be rude or lacking in hospitality.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” replied Miss Mohr with a gracious manner. She turned to follow Mr. Piff to the car.

“No, no! You cannot go now!” cried Peter in distress. “First you must have tea and chocolate. Come inside, all of you.”

Vevi and Connie eagerly started up the veranda steps. The Brownie Scout leader and Miss Mohr held back, scarcely knowing what to do.

“Mr. Piff is waiting for us,” Miss Mohr said uneasily. “We really should go—”

But Peter would not let the meeting end on an unpleasant note. He urged Hanny to take the two women, Vevi and Connie into the parlor. Then he went to the car to tell Mr. Piff he was sorry to have spoken so hastily.

“You’ll reconsider and go in with us on the flower show?” Mr. Piff demanded.

Peter shook his head. “No, no!” he said impatiently. “I have told you already—I have no money for such affairs.”

“I’ll make you change your mind yet,” Mr. Piff insisted. “You’re missing the chance of a lifetime.”

Halfway restored to good humor, he allowed Peter to escort him into the farmhouse.

Miss Mohr, Miss Gordon and the children already had gone inside. Hanny had called the housekeeper, Mrs. Schultz, a plump German lady, who kept the premises as neat as a pin.

“Oh, how delightful!” Miss Mohr exclaimed, her gaze roving over the room.

The walls were half-paneled in oak, with a deep white frieze above for the display of blue Delft ware. A brace of crossed pipes hung above the massive mantel.

All of the furniture was solid, the huge cupboard, the carved chest and the high-back chairs. The wooden floor was so highly polished that Vevi and Connie had to walk carefully not to slip and fall.

While the women admired the Delft tiles and Maiolica ware Peter had brought from Holland, Hanny helped Mrs. Schultz prepare hot chocolate.

Soon the little girl came in with the steaming cups. After that she served tiny little cakes with pink and white frosting.

When finally it was time to leave, Peter cordially invited Miss Mohr, Miss Gordon and the Brownies to come again.

“You’ll see me too!” declared Mr. Piff noisily. “I’ve not given up, Mr. Van Der Lann. Not on your life! The more I see of Windmill Farm the better I like the place. We’ll have to include you in our big show, Peter.”

Peter merely shook his head and made no reply. It was plain to Vevi and Connie that he did not like Mr. Piff nor his familiar way of calling him “Peter” upon such short acquaintance.

Embarrassed by the promoter’s manners, Miss Gordon and the librarian quickly said goodbye. Before leaving, Miss Mohr urged Hanny to come to the library often. Miss Gordon told the little girl she would be welcome at the next Brownie Scout meeting.

“When will that be?” Hanny asked eagerly.

“The date isn’t certain,” Miss Gordon replied. “I will have either Connie or Vevi let you know.”

As the car started toward Rosedale, the Brownie Scout leader and Miss Mohr could talk of little else than the many beautiful treasures in Peter’s home.

“He has a nice place,” Mr. Piff admitted grudgingly. “A stubborn fool though!”

“I don’t agree with you,” Miss Mohr replied. “Surely it is his right to decide whether or not he wants to have a part in a commercial show.”

“He’d have gone for it if you had spoken a single favorable word,” Mr. Piff went on. “What do you have against me anyhow?”

“Nothing,” returned the librarian. She spoke shortly for she had lost all patience with the promoter.

For awhile, Mr. Piff drove in moody silence. Once though, when Vevi lowered the rear window a trifle, he yelled at her to put it up again.

The children decided they never had met a more disagreeable man than the promoter. They were glad, though, that they had made the trip to Windmill Farm, for otherwise they would not have become acquainted with Hanny and her uncle.

“Let’s go back there some day after school,” Vevi proposed.

“So you can ride in the dog cart again?” teased Connie.

Vevi made a grimace. “I’m not afraid of that old dog!” she insisted. “Next time I’ll take a switch and make him obey! I want to see the inside of the old mill.”

“So do I, Vevi. Maybe we can go out there again next week, if our mothers will let us.”

“Some of the flowers should be in bloom by then,” Vevi went on. “I’d like to load the boat with them and float down to the Mattox place.”

“And be run off,” Connie added with a laugh. “That’s you, Vevi, always ready for trouble.”

“Why do you suppose the Mattoxes aren’t friendly with Peter and Hanny?”

“How should I know?” shrugged Connie. “Maybe it’s because they come from Holland. That shouldn’t make any difference, though.”

Vevi’s mind, as active as a humming bird, had darted on.

“Why do you suppose that boat is called the Golden Tulip?” she speculated. “And why wouldn’t Hanny tell us what was kept in that padlocked little house?”

“She did act mysterious about it,” Connie admitted.

The car sped on, striking an uneven place in the pavement. Vevi was thrown forward in her seat. She would have struck the coat rack had not Miss Gordon reached out to hold her back.

“We’re going rather fast,” she said pointedly to Mr. Piff.

“Have to get back to town,” he replied without slowing down. “I have an appointment at the hotel with a man from the Chamber of Commerce. We stayed too long at Windmill Farm.”

The automobile whirled around a bend in the road so fast that the tires screamed. Then Mr. Piff had to put on the brakes.

Directly ahead, was a stalled car. The hood was up and a middle-aged lady in a blue hat, stood looking helplessly at the dead engine.

“Shouldn’t we stop and offer to help?” Miss Gordon suggested. “There isn’t a garage closer than two miles.”

“No time,” Mr. Piff muttered. “I’ll be late for my appointment. Women shouldn’t drive cars if they don’t know how to repair them.”

“I only hope Mrs. Langley doesn’t recognize us as we whirl pass,” remarked Miss Mohr.

“Mrs. Langley?” Mr. Piff demanded. “Not the garden club president?”

“Well, yes,” nodded the librarian.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Mr. Piff took his foot from the accelerator and applied the brakes.

Even so, he could not immediately stop the car. It sped past the stalled automobile and pulled up some distance down the road. Mr. Piff started to back up.

“Your appointment—” began Miss Gordon dryly.

“That can wait,” Mr. Piff rejoined. “My motto is ‘Always help a lady in distress.’ Particularly if her name is Mrs. Langley!”

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