Chapter 1 THE DOG CART

FIVE pair of eyes focused with rapt attention upon Miss Paula Mohr, the librarian.

Five little girls in pin-checked Brownie Scout uniforms had been listening attentively to a tale about the children of Holland.

Now, in the story room of the Rosedale Public Library, they awaited an important announcement.

“Girls,” began Miss Mohr. She was young and pretty, and her voice had soft edges. “How would the Brownies like to help this spring with Rosedale’s annual tulip show?”

“Oh, fine and dandy!” cried Vevi McGuire.

The dark-eyed little girl shouted approval, even without asking what the Brownies would be expected to do. But then, she knew anything planned by Miss Mohr or Miss Jean Gordon, the Brownie troop leader, would be fun.

“Will we sell things?” inquired Connie Williams.

Connie was the quiet, thoughtful member of the group. Sometimes the other Brownies, Rosemary Fritche, Sunny Davidson and Jane Tuttle, teased her by calling her “the thinker.”

“Oh, no,” replied Miss Mohr. “I am not sure of the plans, but we would assist Mrs. Langley.”

The Brownie Scouts all knew that Mrs. Langley was president of the Rosedale Garden Club. She lived with her servants on a large estate of many acres at the edge of town.

Each spring when bulbs bloomed, her gardens were the most beautiful in Rosedale.

“May we help Mrs. Langley?” asked Jane Tuttle, with a toss of her long pigtails. She directed the question at Miss Gordon.

“Why, yes,” the troop leader promptly agreed. “I think the project would be a most worthwhile one.”

“When will Rosedale have its flower show?” inquired Sunny Davidson.

Miss Mohr explained that the exact date had not yet been set. It would depend, she said, upon the weather, and when the tulips reached the climax of bloom.

“This year Mrs. Langley hopes to interest all garden growers and possibly the commercial raisers,” she added. “We want our show to be the best ever!”

“Speaking of commercial growers, reminds me of something!” spoke up Miss Gordon. “Do you girls know Peter Van Der Lann?”

The Brownies had never heard the name. Miss Mohr however, knew it well.

“Peter Van Der Lann is the young Dutchman who started a tulip nursery here last fall,” she declared. “His little niece, Hanny, often comes to the library to read.”

“A charming little girl,” added Miss Gordon warmly. “Just the right age to be a Brownie too—eight, I believe.”

The Brownies now were very quiet, thinking about Hanny. Then Connie spoke.

“I saw her once, I think. She was buying a lolly-pop at the drugstore. She had long shining yellow braids and very blue eyes. But she wore big wooden shoes!”

Klompen,” supplied Miss Mohr, using the Dutch name. “Hanny only wore them when she first came to Rosedale months ago. She wears regular American shoes now. She has improved her English a great deal too.”

“Would she want to be a Brownie Scout?” Jane Tuttle asked, doubt in her voice.

“I’m certain she would,” replied Miss Gordon. “Holland has a Brownie organization too, you know. There, Brownies are called Kabouters which means Little Elves.”

The girls plied Miss Gordon with eager questions about Hanny and the country from which she had come.

In the midst of the conversation, someone tapped lightly on the door of the story room. Another librarian entered to speak to Miss Mohr.

“I am so sorry to interrupt,” she apologized. “A caller is here by the name of Ashley Piff. He insists upon seeing both Miss Mohr and Miss Gordon. He says it is about the garden show.”

Neither Miss Gordon nor the librarian ever had heard of anyone named Mr. Piff.

“I’ll see him,” Miss Mohr decided. “The Brownie meeting was just ending anyway.”

She reminded the girls not to forget the regular story hour the following week. Then with Miss Gordon she went out into the main reading room to talk to the stranger.

The Brownies donned their beanies and jackets. Gathering up their school books, they too sauntered outside.

Mr. Piff was a short, stubby man with a black derby hat. He spoke too loudly for the library. His words carried clearly to every part of the quiet room.

“Now this is my proposition,” the Brownies heard him say. “I am a professional promoter of flower shows. If you ring me in on the deal, I’ll put on a celebration that will be the talk of the town for years! We’ll lift your little show out of the amateur class, and make it a hum-dinger. What d’you say?”

“You really must see Mrs. Langley,” replied Miss Mohr. “She is in charge. Personally though, I’m not in favor of turning our lovely garden show into a cheap commercial festival.”

“Nor am I,” added Miss Gordon firmly.

“You don’t get the idea,” protested Mr. Piff. “It would be a commercial project—true. There would be money in it for everyone. Rosedale and all the merchants would profit. The Brownies—”

“Our organization cannot take part in such an enterprise,” Miss Gordon said emphatically. “We have promised to help Mrs. Langley with the annual garden show. That however, is an entirely different matter.”

Mr. Piff realized that he could not change the teacher’s mind.

“Okay, if that’s your decision,” he said. “You’ll regret it though. Now can you direct me to the nursery of Peter Van Der Lann?”

Miss Mohr showed Mr. Piff on a map how to reach the nearby farm.

“I’ll never find the place by myself,” he said. “How about driving out there with me?”

Miss Mohr started to refuse, but before she could do so, Mr. Piff went on:

“Isn’t it nearly closing time here at the library?”

“In ten minutes. But—”

“It shouldn’t take long to drive out to the nursery,” Mr. Piff said briskly. “My car is at the door. Now it would be a great favor to a stranger who doesn’t know the community. I’ll take anyone who wants to go, and bring you back too.”

Miss Mohr really did not care to make the trip. But Mr. Piff was very persuasive. He pointed out that it was a lovely afternoon for a drive in the country. Finally, he convinced both young women that they should accompany him.

“May we go too?” demanded Vevi. She always liked to ride in a car.

Her request did not appear to please Mr. Piff. He managed to smile though, and said he would take as many Brownies as the sedan would accommodate.

“I have to go home right away,” spoke up Jane.

“So do I,” said Sunny.

Rosemary also turned down the invitation. Vevi and Connie were the only two Brownies to go. They sat in the back seat of the big brown sedan, while Miss Mohr and Miss Gordon rode up front with Mr. Piff.

As the car sped along the open country road, the promotor talked at great length. He kept telling the two young women about his elaborate plans for the flower festival.

“I want to interest every tulip grower in the community,” he said grandly. “This will be the biggest affair Rosedale has ever had!”

Connie and Vevi fairly tingled with excitement to hear Mr. Piff describe everything he intended to do.

The Brownie leader and Miss Mohr were less impressed. In fact, both women seemed rather relieved when finally the car came within view of the Van Der Lann nursery.

“Oh, see the cute Dutch windmill!” cried Vevi as the car rolled over a hilltop.

The tower-like wooden building stood nearly fifty feet high on a slight rise of land. Because it had been painted red, blue and green, the unique structure could be seen from a long distance. Four large wind flaps turned lazily in the breeze.

“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Miss Gordon, who never before had seen the mill. “Why, it looks like a charming bit of Old Holland!”

Two stone gate piers marked the entrance to the farm. The house was gabled, with a red tile roof which sloped forward to cover a wide veranda. Beyond stood the big barn and a small milk house. Everywhere there were acres and acres of tulips. Only a few of the flowers as yet were in bloom.

“This place will be a sea of color in a week or so!” exclaimed Miss Mohr. “I’d love to see it then.”

“We’ll have the show when the flowers are at their best,” said Mr. Piff. He leaped out of the car to open the gate.

Returning, he drove through and pulled up in front of the house. Vevi and Connie jumped out, eager to explore. The farm was a delightful place, neat as a pin. Even the trees had been whitewashed.

As the two little girls stood watching the huge revolving arms of the windmill, a nice looking young man came out of the house. His shirt was open at the neck and he was deeply tanned from having lived much of the time outdoors.

“Good afternoon,” he said, walking over to the car. “May I help you?”

Vevi and Connie noticed that instead of saying Good, the word sounded a little like “goot.” They guessed at once that he was Mr. Van Der Lann, the owner of the nursery.

Mr. Piff introduced himself and at once began to tell of his plans for the flower show.

Not caring to listen, Vevi and Connie wandered off down the cinder path.

“Oh, see!” cried Vevi pointing ahead. “A little canal! The windmill must pump water from it to irrigate the tulip beds.”

The path which led to the canal went directly past the big windmill. Its great arms were covered with gray sailcloth which moved lazily in the light breeze. The big flaps swept low to the ground each time they revolved.

“The windmill has a little house!” Vevi declared. “That must be where the machinery is kept.”

“I’ve never been inside a real mill,” Connie remarked wistfully.

“Neither have I. I’d like to go in. Shall we?”

Connie held back. “I don’t think it would be polite, Vevi. We’re only half-way guests here on the farm. Mr. Van Der Lann didn’t even invite us. We just came with Mr. Piff.”

For awhile the children watched the mill, and then went on down to the canal. A little bridge of planks stretched across to the opposite side.

Both shores were lined with tulips, heavy with bud. All of the beds had been laid out in attractive patterns.

“My, it will be pretty here when the flowers bloom,” Vevi sighed. “No wonder Mr. Piff wants Mr. Van Der Lann to help with the flower show! This place would be a big attraction.”

Vevi noticed a small flat-bottomed boat tied up near the bridge. Its name, “GOLDEN TULIP,” had been painted in bright yellow letters on the craft.

“What an odd name for a boat!” she exclaimed. “Let’s take a ride.”

“We can’t,” Connie replied firmly. “Anyway, the canal might be deep.”

“Why, it’s shallow as anything,” Vevi corrected her. “I can see the bottom.”

“We shouldn’t do it anyway. Miss Gordon wouldn’t like it.”

Connie knew that she must be firm, for Vevi had a way of getting into trouble. Once she had hooked her sled onto an automobile, and had been carried far out into the country. On another occasion the little girl had climbed into a box car to be taken off with a circus!

“I wonder where the canal leads?” Vevi speculated, giving up the idea of a boat ride.

The children could see that the canal wound along rich farm land toward another nursery property. However, the adjoining farm did not look as well laid out or as nicely kept as Mr. Van der Lann’s place.

After tossing a stick into the canal, the girls decided it must be time to return to the house.

They were recrossing the bridge when Vevi suddenly halted.

Connie, directly behind, bumped into her.

“What’s the idea, Vevi McGuire?” she demanded. “You nearly made me fall into the water!”

Vevi spoke in an excited, hushed voice. “Connie, just see what is coming!”

She moved aside so that her little friend’s view would not be blocked. The barn doors had swung open, and now, clattering toward them, was a cart hauled by a huge dog.

“Well, did you ever!” exclaimed Connie, laughing in delight.

The little cart had two wheels. It was painted bright blue and held empty milk cans.

Hurrying on across the bridge, the two girls ran toward the dog. Even though he had no driver, he seemed to know exactly where he was supposed to go. At least he trotted toward the milk house farther down the canal.

“Hello, doggie,” Vevi called in a soft voice. “What’s your name?”

To her astonishment, the dog stopped and looked at her. He was a very large dog, but with a sad, kind face.

“Why, he’s friendly as anything!” Connie exclaimed.

“Mr. Van Der Lann must own him,” Vevi said. Carefully, she petted the dog’s head. “Oh, don’t you just love this place? I’d like to live here.”

“So you could go boating on the canal and ride in the dog cart!” teased Connie.

“Well, it would be fun.”

Vevi gazed speculatively at the cart. She could see that there was room to slide in behind the empty milk cans.

Before Connie could stop her, she climbed in and picked up the reins.

“Oh, Vevi!” Connie protested. “You’re too heavy for that poor dog to haul.”

“I’m light as a feather,” Vevi insisted. “Get up, doggie!”

She made a loud clucking noise to make him go.

The dog started off so fast that Vevi nearly was tossed backwards out of the cart.

“Hey, come back!” Connie shouted. She saw that the dog had headed straight for the canal.

Vevi squealed in fear. The cart was rattling down the slope, faster and faster. One of the empty milk cans toppled over, making a frightful clatter.

The sound startled the dog. He bounded on, even faster.

“Whoa!” Vevi shouted, and tried to pull back on the reins. But she was too frightened. Dropping them entirely, she clung desperately to the side of the jolting cart.

“H-E-L-P,” she called. “Save me, Connie! Stop him quick before he dumps me into the canal!”

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