Chapter XIV. Off Again

"What are we going to do?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, as she stood at the side of her husband on the deck of the houseboat. Mr. Bobbsey was looking at the wire fence, as though trying to find a way to get past it--either under it, or over it, or to one side or the other of it. Of course he did not think it wise to try little Freddie's plan of breaking the wire with a "cutter thing" such as the telephone men carried.

"Well," said Mr. Bobbsey, after a bit, "I guess the only thing for us to do is to go back, until we are anchored in some part of Lemby Creek that doesn't belong to Mr. Hardee."

"Does he really own this water?" asked Bert.

"Well, he says so, and I have no doubt but what he does," said Mr. Bobbsey. "If he owns land on both sides of the creek, naturally he owns the creek, too."

"And we can't go up or down it?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Not unless he lets us."

"What about the fishes?" asked Bert "He can't stop them from swimming up and down."

"No, he can't do that," agreed his father, with a smile.

"Then can he stop Harry and me from catching fish?" Bert wanted next to know.

"Not if you fish somewhere else than in his waters," spoke the twins' father. "The best thing for us to do is to go back where we were at first, near where the creek runs into Lake Metoka. There we can anchor for a time."

"But how are we going to get to Lake Romano?" asked Nan. "I want to show Dorothy the big waterfall."

"Well, perhaps we can get there a little later," her father said. "Just now Mr. Hardee has the best of us, and we'll have to do as he says. So, Captain White, I guess we'll have to back up the boat, as we can't go past the fence."

"If I had one of those wire-cutter things," began Freddie, "I could snip that wire as easy as anything." He seemed to think of nothing else.

"Oh, you and Flossie had better go play with Snap, or Snoop," suggested Bert with a laugh. "Or you can come and watch Harry and me fish. We're going to as soon as we get back aways."

"I'm going to fish, too," declared Freddie, eagerly.

The creek, near Mr. Hardee's farm, was so narrow that the houseboat could not be turned around in it, and it had to go backward. This was easy, since the Bluebird was something like a ferry boat, built to go backward or forward.

The twins were a little sad as they saw their boat backing up, but it could not be helped.

"We'll have a good time fishing, anyhow," said Harry.

"That's right," agreed Bert. "I wonder if that boy Will took his fishing rod with him? He'd probably need it, if he has run away, and is going out west to find his uncle."

"Why would he need a fish-rod?" asked Nan.

"To catch fish to eat," her brother said. "He'll have to have something, and fish are the easiest to get. I almost wish I had gone with him. It will be lots of fun."

"Oh, but it will be very hard, too," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Think of the lonely nights he'll have to spend, and perhaps with no place to sleep, but on the hard ground. And when it rains---"

"I guess I'll stay home!" laughed Bert, as though he had ever had an idea of running away from home.

Slowly the Bluebird made her way backward until she had passed some posts near the edge of the water. These posts marked the boundary line of Mr. Hardee's farm. He did not own beyond them, and Captain White said the creek was public property there.

"Then we'll anchor here," decided Mr. Bobbsey, as he steered the houseboat toward shore. "Then I think I'll take a little trip back to Lakeport."

"And leave us alone?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Only for a short while. I want to see some friends of mine, and find out if Mr. Hardee really has the right to fence off Lemby Creek. I don't believe he has."

"Will you be back to-night?"

"Oh, yes. It isn't far to Lakeport. I can walk across the fields and go by trolley."

"I do hope you can find some way of getting past the fence," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "It would be too bad to have our trip spoiled."

As Mr. Bobbsey was getting ready to go back to town, Dinah came out of the dining-room, looking rather puzzled.

"What is the matter?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Are you worried because we can't get those eggs from Mr. Hardee?"

"Well, yessum, dat's partly it," said the fat cook. "We's got t' hab eggs, an' other things too."

"Bert and Harry can walk to the village," said Mr. Bobbsey. "It isn't far from here. I'll go part way with them. So don't worry, Dinah."

"Oh, dat isn't all dat's worryin' me, Massa Bobbsey. But did yo' say de chillums could hab dem corn muffins whut was left over?" and she looked at Mrs. Bobbsey.

"The corn muffins that were left over?" repeated the twins' mother. "No, I said nothing about them. And they know they should not eat between meals without asking me. Why, are the muffins gone, Dinah?"

"Yessum; fo' ob 'em. I put 'em on a plate on de dinin' room table, but now dey's gone."

"Maybe Snap took them," suggested Mr. Bobbsey. "Snoop wouldn't, for she doesn't like such things. But Snap is very fond of them."

Freddie, who heard the talk, hurried over to where the dog was lying asleep in a patch of sunlight, and opened his mouth.

"No, Snap didn't take 'em," said Freddie. "There aren't any crumbs in his teeth."

"Well, maybe you can tell that way, but I doubt it," laughed Mr. Bobbsey. "Perhaps you forgot where you put the muffins, Dinah, or maybe there were none left."

"Oh, I'se shuah I done put 'em on de table," said the fat cook, "an' I'se shuah dey was some left. I'll go look some mo', though."

As there were a few other things besides eggs that were needed for the kitchen of the houseboat, Bert and Harry planned to take a basket, and go to the nearest village store for them. They would walk across the fields with Mr. Bobbsey.

"We'll fish when we come back," said Bert.

"And get enough for dinner and supper," added Harry.

"Better get enough for one meal first," suggested Nan, with a laugh.

The houseboat was now made fast to the bank of the creek some distance away from the wire fence Mr. Hardee had stretched across the stream. It was not to be seen, nor were the farm buildings. The last the Bobbseys had observed of the farmer was as he stood near his wire fence, shaking his fist at the houseboat.

Mr. Bobbsey did not just know how he was going to get past the fence with the Bluebird, or how he could get Mr. Hardee to cut the wire. The twins' father decided to ask the advice of some friends.

Meanwhile Bert and Harry had reached the store, and had brought the eggs, and other groceries, back to Dinah.

"Did you find those corn muffins?" asked Bert. "Because, if you did, Harry and I would like some. May we have one, mother?"

"If Dinah has them, yes."

"But I cain't find 'em!" complained the fat cook. "Dem muffins hab jest done gone an' hid de'se'ves."

"Oh, I guess we ate them up without knowing it," Bert said, with a laugh. "Never mind, Dinah, a piece of cake, or pie will do just as well."

"Go 'long wif yo'!" cried the cook with a laugh. "I'se got suffin else t' do 'cept make cake an' pies fo' two hungry boys. Yo' jest take a piece ob bread an' butter 'till dinnah am ready."

"All right," agreed Bert. "It won't be long until twelve o'clock. Come on, Harry, and we'll see what luck we have fishing."

"I'm ready," was Harry's answer.

"I'll get you the bread and butter," offered Nan, and she did, adding some jam to the bread, which was a delightful surprise to the two boys.

"I want to fish, too," said Freddie.

"All right, I'll fix you a line," offered Bert. "But be careful you don't fall in. A fish might pull you overboard."

Soon the three boys were dangling their lines over the rail of the Bluebird, while Nan helped her mother with some of the rooms, which, even though they were on a boat, needed "putting to rights." Dinah was busy in the kitchen.

By this time Mr. Bobbsey had reached Lakeport by the trolley. He was going to his lumber office, thinking some of his friends, whom he might call on the telephone could suggest a way out of the trouble. Before he reached the lumber yard, however, he met an acquaintance on the street, a Mr. Murphy.

"Why, hello, Mr. Bobbsey!" exclaimed Mr. Murphy. "I thought you were off on a vacation with your family in a houseboat."

"I was," said the lumber merchant, "but I came back."

"Back so soon? Didn't you like it?"

"Oh, yes, first rate. But we can't go any farther."

"Can't go any farther? What's the matter, did your boat sink?"

"No, but we're stuck in Lemby Creek. Mr. Hardee, a farmer who owns land on both sides of the creek, has put a wire fence across to stop us from going on to Lake Romano."

"Is that so! Well, that's too bad. How did it happen?"

"I'll tell you," said Mr. Bobbsey.

Then he told the story of stopping the angry farmer from beating Will Watson, and how the fence had been built in the night.

"Well, that certainly was a mean trick on the part of Mr. Hardee," said Mr. Murphy. "And so the boy ran away?"

"Yes, and Mr. Hardee accused me of knowing something about him, but I don't--any more than you do."

"I suppose not. But now the question is, How are you going to get past that wire fence?"

"I don't know. The only way I see is to get Mr. Hardee to cut it, or take it down, and he says he won't do either."

"Humph! Let me see. There ought to be a way out of it. I believe he has the right, as far as the law goes, to put that fence up, but no one else would be so mean. I guess we'll just have to force him to cut those wires, as your little boy, Freddie, suggested."

"Yes, but how can we do it?" asked Mr. Bobbsey. "Mr. Hardee is very headstrong, and set in his ways."

"Let me see," spoke Mr. Murphy slowly, "isn't his name Jake Hardee?"

"Yes, I believe it is."

"And didn't he buy from you the lumber to build his house?"

"Yes, I sold him the lumber, but he paid me for it," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I couldn't get any hold on him that way. He paid for the lumber in cash."

"Yes," cried Mr. Murphy, "but he got the money from me to pay you, and he hasn't paid me back. He still owes me the money, and he gave me a mortgage on his house as security. I've got a hold on him all right. He owes me some interest money, too."

I might say to you little children that when a man wants to build a house and has not enough money, he goes to another man and borrows cash, just as your mamma sometimes borrows sugar, or tea, from the lady next door.

When the man borrows money to build his house, he gives to the man who lends him the cash, a piece of paper, called a mortgage. That paper says that if the man who borrowed the money does not pay it back, and also pay interest for the use of it, the man who lent him the money can take the house. The house is "security" for the loaned money.

It is just as if your mamma went next door to borrow a cup of sugar, and said:

"Now, Mrs. Jones, if I don't pay you back this sugar, and a little more than you gave me, for being so kind as to lend it to me--if I don't pay it back in a week, why you can keep my new Sunday hat." And your mamma might give Mrs. Jones a Sunday hat as "security" for the cup of sugar. Of course ladies do not do those things, but that is what a mortgage is like.

"Yes." said Mr. Murphy to Mr. Bobbsey, "Mr. Hardee borrowed from me the money to buy from you the lumber for his house. And he hasn't paid me back the money, nor any interest on it. I think I'll go up and have a talk with him. And, when I get through talking, I guess he'll let you go through his wire fence."

"I hope he will," said Mr. Bobbsey, "for it would be too bad to have our trip spoiled."

"I'll go right back with you," offered Mr. Murphy.

So it happened that Mr. Bobbsey, with his friend, reached the houseboat, in Lemby Creek, shortly after dinner.

"Oh, back so soon?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "What are you going to do, Mr. Murphy?"

"Have a talk with Mr. Hardee."

Mr. Bobbsey and Mr. Murphy walked down the bank of the creek to the farm. They found Mr. Hardee mending a broken harness.

"Mr. Hardee," said Mr. Murphy, "I hear you have put a wire fence across Lemby Creek, so my friend, Mr. Bobbsey, can't get past with his houseboat."

"Yes, I have," growled the farmer, "and that fence is going to stay up, too! I'll show him he can't come around here, interferin' with me when I try to punish my help. He made Will run away too."

"No, I did not. I know nothing of him," said Mr. Bobbsey.

"Mr. Hardee," went on Mr. Murphy. "I want you to take down that fence, and let the houseboat go on up the creek."

"And I'm not going to!"

"Very well, then," said Mr. Murphy, quietly, "perhaps you are ready to pay me the interest on my mortgage which has been due me for some time, Mr. Hardee."

The farmer seemed uneasy.

"Well, to tell you the truth," he said, "I haven't got that money just now, Mr. Murphy. Times have been hard, and crops are poor, and I'm short of cash. Can't you wait a while?"

"I have waited some time."

"Well, I'd like to have you wait a little longer. I'll pay you after a while."

"And I suppose you'll take down that wire fence, and let Mr. Bobbsey and the twins go past--after a while?"

"Well--maybe," growled the mean farmer.

"Maybe won't do!" exclaimed Mr. Murphy. "I want you to take the wire fence down right away."

"Well, I'm not going to do it. He interfered with me, and made that boy run away, and I'm not going to let him go up my part of the creek."

"Well, then, Mr. Hardee, if you can't do something for Mr. Bobbsey, as a favor, I can't do anything to oblige you. Mr. Bobbsey is a friend of mine and unless you cut your wire fence, I'll have to foreclose that mortgage, and take your house in payment for the money you owe me. That's all there is about it. Either pay me my money--or cut that fence. It must be one or the other."

Mr. Hardee squirmed in his seat, and seemed very uneasy.

"I--I just can't pay that money," he said.

"Then I'll have to take your house away."

"I--I don't want you to do that, either."

"Then cut the wire fence!" cried Mr. Murphy.

"Wa'al, I--I guess I'll have to," said Mr. Hardee, but it was clearly to be seen that he did not want to. He went into the barn, and came out wearing a pair of rubber boots, and carrying a pair of pincers-- the "wire-cutting things," as Freddie called them.

Wading out into the creek Mr. Hardee snipped the wires of the fence.

"There, now you can go on," he said to Mr. Bobbsey, but his tone was not pleasant.

"I thought I knew how to make him give in," whispered Mr. Murphy.

"Thank you," said Mr. Bobbsey to his friend. They hurried back to the houseboat.

"We're going on again!" cried the twins' father. "The fence is down."

"Oh, fine!" said Bert.

"Now for the waterfall!" sighed Nan, who loved beautiful scenery.

"Oh, I've caught a fish!" suddenly shouted Freddie and he jumped about so that his mother, with a scream, ran toward him, fearing he would go overboard.