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"Jo Ann and the Lamb" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
Jo Ann and the Lamb
by Ellis Parker Butler

As soon as Jo Ann said the words she flared scarlet and would have given a semester's allowance to have had them unspoken, because of a hundred things but also because Tommy Bassick, rushing over to scoop up the escaping basketball, heard them. He stopped short just behind Fatty Lamb as he heard the words, and he grinned at Jo Ann. Jo Ann would have leaped from her seat to tangle her hands in Tommy Bassick's hair and have it out with him then and there, but it couldn't be done. For he laughed and, dribbling the ball, was across the hall in an instant, and out of reach.

'That's one of Tommy's smarty tricks,' said Jo Ann

The terrible thing happened in this way: This fat boy -- Norbert Lamb -- came strolling up to where Jo Ann and Wicky sat in the front row at the Spenceville-Dorton basketball game and touched his cap.

"'Lo, Wicky!" he said, for he came from the same town as Julia Wickham. "Looks as if it would be a close game. Who's who?"

This meant that he wanted to be introduced to Jo Ann, of course, and Wicky did what was proper.

"Oh, this is my roommate, Norbert!" Wicky exclaimed. "Jo Ann, you know -- I've told you about her. This is Norbert Lamb, Jo Ann."

Under almost no circumstances would Jo Ann have thought of saying "How do you do?" or "Mr. Lamb!" or any of the conventional things, because Jo Ann was not apt to say the usual things. She might have said "Hullo!" but as she looked up into Fatty Lamb's face a most peculiar feeling swept her, and she said a thing she had never imagined in all her tomboy life she would ever say to any boy, at any time or place, under any conditions.

"Gosh! What beautiful eyes you have!" What beautiful eyes! Jo Ann said, and it was then that Reddy Bassick heard her and grinned.

Later that night when Jo Ann and Wicky were back in their room in the dorm, Jo Ann was so mad that tears stood in her eyes. "Kick me, Wicky, kick me!" she begged. "I'm so mad at myself! Imagine yelling at a boy that he has beautiful eyes! A fatty like that, too. Gosh, I make myself sick! But he has beautiful eyes Wicky -- don't you think his eyes are beautiful? I mean just lovely?" Julia was looking at Jo Ann with a puzzled expression. Jo Ann, as Julia knew her, was more apt to look at a boy with a view to deciding what hold would be best to use in throwing him in a wrestle than to find beauty in his eyes. She did not know just what to think of Jo Ann just then.

"I don't know," she said cautiously. "His eyes are nice and brown, anyway. I like blue ones better. You don't suppose you've fallen for him, do you, Jo Ann?"

"Oh, Wicky! You don't think so, do you?" asked Jo Ann in great distress. "They say that when a -- a crush comes, it comes all of a sudden like that. Wicky, you don't think I'm going to be silly about him, do you?"

"Well, I certainly hope not," Julia said, cold-creaming her face, a thing Jo Ann never bothered to do. "You're going to be an awful nuisance to me if you've got a crush. You'll be sobbing around and mooning to me about him day and night. It will be awful!"

But the next morning when Wicky asked Jo Ann, with real concern, how she was feeling about Fatty Lamb, her roommate said with her usual frankness that she guessed it had been a false alarm. Wicky said she thanked goodness for that.

"You don't feel as though you just wanted to rush off and be where he is?" Wicky asked. "You don't feel as if you'd die if you didn't see him today?"

"No, I don't," Jo Ann said. "I'm all right now, Wicky. I thought it out last night after you were asleep and snoring."

"I do not snore!" Wicky declared.

"Purring, then," said Jo Ann. "I don't want to see Norbert Lamb. I think he's uncouth -- fat, I mean. And I wouldn't say he was fat if I had a crush, would I? All I want is to see his eyes."

"Oh, Jo Ann! You have, fallen for him, after all. You have!"

"No," Jo Ann said matter-of-factly. "No Wicky! I thought it out last night. I understand it all now. I told you how I used to play marbles and win all the boys' marbles at home. Well, there was a brown carnelian agate in Bentz's window at home that I thought was the most beautiful thing in the world, Wicky. I wasn't happy till I got it, and then I just loved it! And that's all there is to this Norbert Lamb business -- his eyes reminded me of my dear lovely carnelian agate marble. So that's that, and we don't have to worry about it any more. Get your shoes on and let's hustle down to breakfast; I'm starved."

And that, as Jo Ann said, may have been that, but, unfortunately, two other girls had heard Jo Ann tell Fatty Lamb his eyes were beautiful, and as she entered the dining room half a hundred voices joined in chanting, "Oh, you beautiful eyes!" and Jo Ann had sent all the bread rolls at one end of the room flying at her tormentors, when she was suppressed by three professors.

At Spenceville Military, too, the unlucky Fatty Lamb, whose crime was nothing but possessing two eyes that resembled an agate marble he had never seen, was being made considerably miserable. He was given half a dozen new names, among which were "Beautiful Eyes," "Bright Eyes," "Lovely Optics" and others of equal wit, and Ted Spence, who was Tommy Bassick's roommate and thought he was quite a poet, composed a poem which was sing-songed at Fatty everywhere and which caused six fist fights. And it was not fair to the poor fellow because he didn't care a rap for Jo Ann. That poem --

Spenceville has a Fatty Lamb,
His eyes are just bee-oot-iful;
They follow everywhere Jo Ann
In a manner quite de-oot-iful.

How he hated the thing! But something is always necessary to call one person's attention to another, and having Jo Ann's name shouted at him so constantly at least kept her in his memory, and may have been one reason why he accepted when she invited him to the Valentine Hop.

The Spenceville Military School for Boys is not unlike a castle as it stands on its low hill. Across the valley the Winton School for Girls rears its handsome white Colonial buildings on a second hill, and it was trying to maintain its reputation as a highly orderly and respectable school in spite of Jo Ann, although Miss Orvis, the gray-haired president, remarked to Miss Vance, "It seems to me that Josephine Angelina does introduce an element of uneasiness."

The two important social events of the year were the Valentine Hop at the Winton School, to which all the boys of Spenceville School were invited, and the G. W. Prom given by the Spenceville School on Washington's birthday, when all the Winton School girls were guests.

The Valentine Hop, as was appropriate, was a fancy dress party, and at Winton more red hearts were cut out of cardboard than would fill a truck, and were sewed onto white dresses, and the girls were the "askers" when it came to dancing and were supposed to choose their partners and to have the right to cut in to make it more exciting. Everyone wore a mask until after supper. The Spenceville boys -- who, of course, scorned parties -- began thinking about the Valentine Hop along about October, complaining that it was a darned nuisance to have to go and dance with a lot of girls and that they wished they did not have to. They scorned the Valentine Hop so completely that they hardly talked about anything else all winter, and by Christmas most of them had decided what sort of fancy costumes to wear, and brought the necessary parts with them when they came back from Christmas vacation.

"Gosh!" they would say, "all I hope is that none of those flappers ask me to dance; watch me dodge them when I get there!" But there was not one of them who would not have gladly had measles three times in succession rather than miss the hop. They were, as Jo Ann said, some bluffers!

Norbert Blinked

Norbert Lamb had decided to attend the Valentine Hop as Nathan Hale, in a Continental uniform, but when red-headed Tommy Bassick heard Jo Ann's unfortunate exclamation about Norbert's eyes, he foregathered with his roommate Ted Spence and decided that Norbert would not go as Nathan Hale.

"Look here, Lamb, old son," Tommy said to Norbert, "we've got a swell idea for the Valentine Hop, Ted and I, and we want you to come in with us on it. None of this old fancy dress junk -- something different and snappy. Animals."

"Animals?" Norbert queried. "You're not serious?"

"You bet! I am going in a lion rig, and Ted is going as a tiger -- all stripes of black and yellow, you know -- and we said right away we wanted you to be one of us. You can be a bear."

"A bear? I don't know how to rig up as a bear," Norbert said innocently.

"A polar bear," Tommy Bassick explained. "It would be pretty hard to rig up a brown bear outfit, or a black bear one, but all we need for a polar bear rig is cotton batting. Sew it on an old suit, you know; we'll help you."

And help him they did. They sewed yards of fluffy cotton batting on his suit, and explained that -- just to make it snappy -- he would have a big red heart pinned on his back. They were going to have big red hearts on their backs too, they explained. Which was all right enough except that when they had Norbert dressed he did not look much like a polar bear, and they hadn't intended he should. When the night of the hop came they escorted Norbert to Winton School, and Tommy Bassick himself pinned the big red heart on Norbert's back.

"That's fine!" he said. "Ain't it the cat's, Ted?"

"And how!" Ted Spence exclaimed, standing back and looking at the heart with mock admiration. "Bert, you ought to see how that red heart stands out against your white fleece -- I mean fur!"

It did, too, but Ted Spence had printed some lines on the heart, of which poor Fatty knew nothing. They were --

Am I looking sheepish -- very?
I'll tell the world I am!
But if Jo Ann will be my Mary
I will be her little lamb.

The girls were all in the gym, which was used as a ballroom, and the boys came in one at a time, Professor Higgins announcing them in a loud voice, "Captain Kidd, the Pirate!" "D'Artagnan!" "Chico the Jester!" -- and so on, and each received more or less applause. "The Royal Bengal Tiger!" cried Professor Higgins as Ted Spence stepped into the gym in his gaudy orange and black stripes, and Ted got more applause than any boy that far. Tommy Bassick, who was hanging back until last, pushed Norbert forward.

'My mistake!' called Professor Higgins. 'The lamb is a bear!'

"He's Mary's Little Lamb," Tommy told Professor Higgins, and Norbert said "No, I'm -- " but Professor Higgins was already announcing him.

"Mary's Little Lamb!" shouted Professor Higgins and Tommy gave Norbert a push forward. Everyone applauded. Everyone screamed and laughed and clapped hands and shouted, for poor Norbert looked like an extra plump and especially woolly lamb. The poor boy's face blazed and he turned and spoke to Professor Higgins.

"My mistake!" shouted Professor Higgins. "The lamb is a bear!" and one of the boys cried out, "I'll say he is!" and everyone laughed. Everyone except Jo Ann laughed. Jo Ann, in a lovely fluffy costume, looked mad. Her eyes shone fiercely under the ribbon that encircled her brow.

"That's one of Tommy Bassick's smarty tricks," she exclaimed to Wicky. "Look at him grin! I'd know that grin anywhere no matter how many masks he covered the top of his face with. Poor Norbert! I'm sorry for him."

But when Norbert turned to speak to Professor Higgins, the big red heart on his woolly back came into plain view of everyone in the gym, and the verse on the heart was easily read, and another shout went up. Poor Norbert turned, blushing and grinning sheepishly, not knowing what was wrong now, and Tommy Bassick stepped forward.

"The King of Beasts!" shouted Professor Higgins, and Tommy bowed with his long stuffed tail draped over his arm.

"The beast!" cried Jo Ann appropriately, but she was already halfway across the gym. She jerked the large red heart from Norbert's back as she flashed past him and kept on running, full-tilt, to where Tommy Bassick was standing.

Every girl in America should read what happened next, and take warning from it, and see what a horrid thing it is to be unladylike and tomboyish, and how naughty it is to be a disturbing element in a placid school. Jo Ann was so angry that she hardly knew what she was doing, and the sight of Tommy Bassick acted on her the same way that a red flag acts on a bull. Uttering a sound between a snarl of rage and a half-strangled whoop of triumph, she crushed the heart against his face with the flat of her hand. There was the full weight of her body back of the hand when it struck Tommy, and he caromed against Professor Higgins and went down flat on his back.

"Josephine Angelina!" cried Prexy Orvis, and Miss Vance shouted "Jo Ann! Stop that!" but Jo Ann was standing over Tommy Bassick, both her hands clinched into fists and her eyes blazing, more angry than she had ever been since their feud had begun when they were almost babies. She was looking for some place to hit him, but he had scrambled over onto his hands and knees, probably knowing that if he turned his face to Jo Ann it would get a hard fist in it, and he bolted out through the door that way, probably the most undignified lion the world had ever seen. And Miss Vance and Prexy Orvis and half the Winton School faculty gathered round Jo Ann to see that she did not follow.

In the room set aside for the dressing room for boys from Spenceville Military, the victim of Jo Ann's rude and tomboyish treatment gave one look at himself in a mirror and proceeded to pull and twist his costume so that the back was once more in the back and the sides where they belonged. His fall had turned him into a rather battered lion, and the lion's head that should have masked the upper part of his face, was resting rakishly over one of Tommy's large ears. But a few minutes made him as good as new, and when the final touches had been added, Tommy felt that he was ready to face the world once more. He sauntered out, an anticipatory grin on his face, to see what was happening to Jo Ann meanwhile.

To his satisfaction, and to his relief, too -- although he would never have admitted it -- Jo Ann seemed to be safely a prisoner, with so many of the Winton faculty around her. She stood against the wall, her mask off now, and her coronet askew. But, helpless though she seemed, Tommy considered it the better part of valor to keep several feet between them, so he watched and listened from a distance.

"I am surprised! Jo Ann, I am surprised!" Miss Vance was saying, and probably she was. "You will go to your room at once! I have never, since I have been here, seen anything like this at a Valentine Hop."

"But did you see what he printed on that heart, Vancy -- did you?" Wicky asked, faithful defender of her Jo Ann. "You wouldn't stand that, would you? If somebody said somebody was your little lamb, would you stand it? Before everybody?"

"Go to your room, Jo Ann," Miss Vance was saying firmly.

"But listen, Vancy," Wicky pleaded, since Jo Ann said nothing. "It is not fair. Jo Ann invited Norbert Lamb to dance with her -- she wrote him weeks ago, and he accepted. What will they think at Spenceville if you let us invite folks to dance with us and then won't let us dance with them?"

Jo Ann said nothing. She stood waiting to learn what her punishment was to be and to accept it like a soldier. When she raised her eyes it was to look at Tommy leaning nonchalantly against a gymnasium horse in a far-away corner, and then to gaze dreamily at the gym ceiling, where the rope ladders and trapezes were hooked up to be out of the way for the dance.

"Don't you think, Miss Vance," said the elderly president in her mild voice, "that it would be as well to let any punishment wait until tomorrow?"

"Very well," agreed Miss Vance, who had charge of the girls in Jo Ann's house. "But I am ashamed of Jo Ann. And she had, at least, better go to her room and straighten herself a little."

"I'd like to," Jo Ann said. "Will you come with me, Wicky?"

In her room, Jo Ann gave scant attention to her disarray. She dabbed at her hair with a comb, snipped a torn bit of trimming from her dress with Wicky's nail scissors, and then dived over to the desk and seized a large piece of the white cardboard Wicky had been using for poster work in her art class.

"What in the world!" Wicky exclaimed in amazement, as Jo Ann began to letter something on the cardboard with red ink and one of Wicky's best camel's hair brushes.

"It's a revenge," Jo Ann explained. "You don't think I'm going to let him get away with just getting a little bit mussed and having a heart smashed on his face, do you? Look!" and she held up the sign she had made.

Wicky read it. "Jo Ann!" she cried, aghast. "You're not going to do anything more?"

"I am! I'm not going to let anyone do what he did to me. I'm going to teach him something. That terrible verse! I suppose Ted Spence wrote it -- and I'll get him, too, some time -- but Tommy had the idea. I know his ideas, all right. I've seen them before. I've got a wonderful plan. Listen." And Jo Ann talked long and earnestly at the faithful Wicky, whose look of doubt changed to one of calculating delight.

"I'd do it myself, Wicky," said Jo Ann as she finished outlining the campaign, "but he knows who I am -- everybody does -- and he hasn't seen you yet without your mask. It will be easy to make him think you're Irene, and he's so crazy about her that he'll do anything she asks. He's such an idiot!"

And so they parted.

When Jo Ann reached the gym, the orchestra was playing and the floor was filled with couples. A few of the girls were standing along the walls -- timid "stags" who had not yet got up enough courage to ask the few remaining partnerless boys to dance -- but Jo Ann did not join them. She stood watching until she saw Norbert Lamb swing by with Sally Sawyer -- anyone would recognize Sally's blonde curls -- then she tapped Sally on the arm and said "Excuse" and took Norbert away from her.

"This is the supper dance," said Norbert. "I looked for you."

"I was busy." Jo Ann smiled into the agate eyes, and the couple mingled with the other dancers.

"I always pay Tommy for what he does to me," said Jo Ann after a minute. And --" she whispered darkly, "if he thinks he's going to get off this time --"

"What are you going to do?" asked Norbert with interest.

"Just wait," replied Jo Ann.

The signal came for unmasking, and after that the party trooped into a smaller room next to the gym for supper.

"Do you see Wicky anywhere, Norbert?" asked Jo Ann. "Or Tommy Bassick?"

Norbert looked around. "No," he said.

Jo Ann sighed contentedly. "Come," she said, "let's go in to supper."

Jo Ann had no sooner seated herself at supper than she rose again. "You won't mind talking to Sally and Dick for awhile, will you?" she asked Norbert. "I've got to go out and do something that ought to be done." And with that she left him.

In the meantime, out in a passageway which led from the gym to the locker rooms, Tommy Bassick was deep in conversation with a young lady.

"And," he was saying largely, "I'm pretty sure to make that team next year. I could have been on it this year but -- well -- I thought it would be a good idea not to begin too soon, you know."

"Oh!" murmured the masked lady. "I can't wait till the next hockey season begins. It will be wonderful to see you on the team. Are you a good acrobat, too? Can you swing on trapezes and --"

"Can I! Why, I'm the best trapeze performer in our form. Only the other day Hendy -- that's Henderson, our gym instructor -- told me so."

"I thought you would be," said the lady softly. "You look so -- so strong."

"Say," said Tommy suddenly, a propos of nothing at all. "Say, I -- I think you're beautiful, Irene -- I mean -- I -- I think --"

The lady smiled. "Oh, Tommy, I'm so glad you think so. You know, Tommy, I'd love to see you do some trapeze stunts. I know you're terribly good!"

"Oh, well, I -- I've given a little time to practicing," Tommy replied modestly.

"Won't you show me, Tommy? I just love people who can swing on trapezes -- there's one in the gym. Let's go now."

Tommy was tempted. He really was rather good on the trapeze. "But before all those people?" he objected.

His companion peeped through the door. "They're gone," she reported. "They're at supper. Oh, please come."

Tommy rose with the air of one humoring a woman's unreasonable whim. "All right," he said.

As they walked into the gym, Tommy was so absorbed in his partner that he did not see a white figure with a huge red heart headdress crouching behind the horse in the corner. He went over to the wall and unwound the ropes that held up the trapeze and the rope ladder. Then he steadied the ladder and began to climb. When he was halfway up he turned to his lady who stood, fascinated, at the bottom.

"Say, Irene," he said. "Take off your mask."

"I will, Tommy, when you get on the trapeze," said Irene in a choked voice.

Tommy looked down and grinned. "Scared, are you?" he said in a gratified tone. "I mean, about me climbing so high up here."

"N-no" was the reply. "Only excited. Oh, hurry, Tommy. Please hurry!"

Tommy Bassick swung up the remaining rungs, put out one hand and grasped the trapeze, hung perilously for a moment, then pulled himself up.

"What do you want me to do?" he called, and then went mute with amazement. For down below there were two white figures instead of one. A whirlwind from the corner was pushing the horse directly beneath the trapeze. And on the horse was a sign. Tommy couldn't see the words on it, but he had an idea they must be uncomplimentary to him, for the whirlwind was Jo Ann.

He reached for the ladder, but at that moment it swung away from him. He saw Irene manipulating the rope.

"Hi, there, Irene," he shouted. "Send that ladder back here. I want to get down. I --" But he stopped short as the figure turned and pulled off her mask, for the face was not the face of the lovely Irene. It was Wicky's!

Any girl can make a monkey out of Tommy Bassick.

Tommy Bassick choked with rage. "You -- you -- there. You're going to get in trouble. Just wait. I'll show you!"

But the two below paid no attention to his tirade. They were hanging on each other's necks, shrieking with laughter.

"Look at him!" gurgled Jo Ann. "Just look at him, Wicky. Isn't he ridiculous!" And she pointed a derisive finger at the sputtering, scarlet Tommy.

"And he thinks I'm beautiful!" Wicky laughed merrily. "He said so!"

"I -- I -- did not!" said Tommy.

Jo Ann and Wicky doubled over with mirth. Tommy tried to look nonchalant and dignified sitting on a bar fifteen feet above the ground in a lion's suit.

"Say, you two'll be sorry if you don't get that ladder over here right away," he said sternly. "I know something and --" He left the sentence unfinished, for he saw that Jo Ann and Wicky weren't listening. They were dancing up and down and waving their arms wildly at the crowd, coming from supper.

"Look at Tommy! Look at Tommy! Isn't he fu-n-n-n-y!" howled Jo Ann. And they all followed her pointing finger and looked. And when they had looked, they laughed. They guffawed. And Norbert Lamb, standing next to Jo Ann, laughed loudest of all.

"And look at this. Read it!" shrieked Wicky, pointing to the sign displayed on the horse below Tommy. And the mirth increased as they read.

"Tommy doesn't know what it says," remarked Jo Ann, when the first noise subsided. "Wicky and I laughed so that we couldn't read it to him."

"I'll tell him what it says," Norbert volunteered, and he proceeded to read:

"'Any girl can make a monkey out of Tommy Bassick.'"

Tommy squirmed, and his lion's tail lashed back and forth viciously. "You just wait," he cried. "I'll -- I'll --"

But no one ever knew how Tommy was going to finish. For at that moment Miss Vance came in and took in the situation immediately.

"Let down the ladder, Ted." Then she turned to Jo Ann.

"This is the second time this evening you've been a disturbing element. I --"

But Tommy had reached the bottom of the ladder. With a whoop, Jo Ann swooped down upon him, grasping the lion's tail in her two strong little hands. Tommy pulled and Jo Ann held on. There was a sound of ripping and the tail gave way. The next moment Jo Ann was standing with it dangling in her hand.

"Pshaw!" she said, "I wanted the whole skin."

Jo Ann, of course, was suspended for a whole month, but as her ambition at that time was to be a trans-Atlantic mail-airplane pilot, she did not mind it much.

Her Aunt Eliza visited the Winton School some weeks after Jo Ann's return there, and as soon as she entered Jo Ann's room she exclaimed:

"Why, what a peculiar decoration." "Yes," Jo Ann said. "This is our trophy room. That's a lion's tail, but not a very good one."

"You girls!" laughed Aunt Eliza, who had not heard of the Valentine Hop.

"What will you think of next!"



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:26am USA Central
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