from American Girl
Jo Ann's Bandit
by Ellis Parker Butler
It was the first day of November. You must remember that because, if the day had not been the first of November, Jo Ann would not have had a bandit at all.
About the middle of October a letter came to Jo Ann from her Aunt Sue saying, "I would love to have you and a few of your friends, both girls and boys, come to Everton for Halloween," and on October thirtieth Jo Ann's father loaded Jo Ann and redheaded Tommy Bassick and Wicky Wickham and Tommy's friend, Ted Spence, into his car and took them to Aunt Sue's house in Everton in the Berkshire Hills.
The next evening -- Halloween -- Aunt Sue did have a grand Halloween party with a dozen of the Everton boys and girls invited and it was one o'clock in the morning before the party was over. By that time a drizzle of rain was falling and freezing as it fell.
Very early in the morning -- and this was November first, please remember -- Aunt Sue went into the bedroom where Jo Ann and Wicky were sleeping.
"Jo Ann!" she said, pulling at the bedclothes. "Wake up! I have just had a telephone message from Bannox saying that Mother is ill, and George and I are going to drive over there."
"Are you?" yawned Jo Ann sleepily. "All right, Aunt Sue."
"Jo Ann, wake up!" commanded Aunt Sue. "You're half asleep still. I want you to please understand what I'm saying."
With that both Jo Ann and Wicky sat up in bed, quite wide-awake.
"I hope Mother isn't very ill," said Aunt Sue, "and I'll try to get home by noon because my bridge club meets here this afternoon. Ardelia will help you clean up the mess left by the party, and I want you to see that the bridge tables are set up in the living room, with the chairs in place at the tables, and if I do not get back by the time the ladies come they are to go right ahead. You or Wicky can take a hand until I come."
"I'm not too awfully suave at bridge, Aunt Sue," Jo Ann said.
"No matter," said Aunt Sue. "Do the best you can."
With that she was going, but she turned back to say, "And be sure to put coal on the furnace at noon. Ardelia is so old she forgets, and it is going to be much colder today."
Then she did go, giving Jo Ann a kiss, and Jo Ann and Wicky jumped out of bed. They found breakfast ready for them and Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence already down and waiting.
Ardelia, Aunt Sue's aged maid, was hobbling around complaining of her rheumatism, and before breakfast was over she said she was "sufferin' too terr'ble to bear it no mo'," and Jo Ann told her to go up to bed again and she did, saying over and over, "Thank you, missy! Thank you, missy!"
Jo Ann and Wicky did the breakfast dishes while Tommy and Ted cleaned up the worst of the Halloween party mess, and then all four set to work at the final cleaning, and arranged the bridge tables and chairs in the living room as Aunt Sue had asked.
All this while the drizzle had continued, freezing as it fell.
"Wicky!" cried Jo Ann, stopping to look out of the window. "Will you just come and see this! I never saw anything so beautiful in my life!"
"Oh, boy!" Tommy Bassick exclaimed, when he had taken a look. "I'll bet there'll be cars in trouble today."
Every twig and bough and bush was ice-covered and sparkling like millions of diamonds, and the ground was one sheet of shining ice. The limbs of the trees were bent with the weight of the ice. Everything seemed coated with glistening glass. Down on the road a single automobile was skidding from one side of the road to the other, slipping on its chainless tires.
"I don't believe Aunt Sue can get back," said Wicky. "I don't believe any of her bridge party can get here."
"But isn't it lovely?" Wicky said. "It looks like fairyland."
It did. Aunt Sue's house would be called a modest country home. It stood about two miles from Everton Corners, where the post office is, and the nearest house was a mile away -- the Russmore Tea Room house that always had the sign in its yard: "Russmore Tea Room. Prompt Service. Lunch, fifty cents; dinner, one dollar."
Aunt Sue's house was Colonial, all white with green shutters, and it stood about one hundred feet back from the road, with trees and bushes on the lawn. Behind it a hill rose, all forest with huge trees.
It was about noon when the telephone bell rang. The telephone was in the hall, between the living room and the dining room, and Jo Ann had been making sandwiches with Wicky while Ted and Tommy sat on the floor before the living room fire. Jo Ann hurried to the telephone.
"Hello!" a voice said over the wire. "This is Elsie Jennings. Is that you, Sue?"
"This is Jo Ann, her niece," said Jo Ann. "Aunt Sue had to go to Grandma's -- she's sick."
"Dear me! I'm so sorry!" said Elsie Jennings. "I just wanted to say I don't believe I can possibly get to the bridge club today, the roads are so icy. I wouldn't dare drive the car."
"I don't suppose anybody will come," said Jo Ann. "I'll tell Aunt Sue, if she gets here."
"Please do! And -- did you hear the dreadful thing that happened at Greenville last night? A bandit shot Tobias Long. Actually! A bandit in our peaceful Berkshires! He robbed three other stores -- just simply held them up with a pistol and took their money -- but Tobias Long was too slow or something, and he shot him right through the shoulder."
"How awful!" cried Jo Ann. "And at Greenville!"
"But my husband says they'll catch him," said Elsie Jennings. "He can't go far on these roads. He had a rickety old Buick car without chains. And, listen -- if you see a car like that drive past, please telephone the post office at Greenville. All the men are out trying to get the bandit."
"I will!" exclaimed Jo Ann excitedly. "I'll telephone!"
"It's a sedan car," said Mrs. Jennings, "and the man is youngish. He is wearing a dark gray overcoat and a darker gray cap. My husband says --"
And right there the telephone went dead. The telephone wires were going dead everywhere, the wires breaking under the loads of ice that weighted them down. Jo Ann jiggled the telephone and called, "Hello! Hello!", but it was no use. The telephone was dead.
"Wicky! Boys!" Jo Ann announced. "There's a bandit loose right around here somewhere. Suppose he came here!"
"We'd capture him," said Tommy Bassick, grinning. "I suppose there's a reward for him. If he came here Ted and I would jump on him and tie him up."
"You wouldn't dare," said Wicky. "He'd have a pistol. Tell us about him, Jo Ann."
Jo Ann told them what Elsie Jennings had said.
"Anyway," she said in conclusion, "he's not apt to come this way. And you boys had better go to the woodshed and get a couple of armfuls of wood for the fireplace. That basket is empty."
The boys went obediently. Wicky went to the kitchen and Jo Ann straightened one of the bridge table covers that had been brushed askew. She was still doing this when someone stamped his feet on the porch outside the front door. He stamped two or three times heavily, and Jo Ann went toward the front door. She was wearing one of Aunt Sue's white aprons and she reached back to untie it, but the front door opened and the man came into the hall without so much as ringing the bell. He closed the door behind him and Jo Ann saw that he had a belt outside his overcoat and that hanging from the belt was a holster, and that the handle of a big pistol stuck out of the holster.
For a moment Jo Ann was petrified by fear. The man was young and he wore a gray overcoat and a darker gray cap, pulled low over his eyes, and there was a smear of blood on one cheek. Jo Ann's hand reached for the newel post of the stairs, and her first thought was that she would run upstairs and hide, but her feet and legs would not obey her. She could do nothing but stand and stare.
Coming in from the icy glare outside, the young man could see little in the comparative darkness of the hall, and he scowled as he pulled off his gloves.
"I want something to eat, and in a hurry," he said. "No matter what, but be quick about it, will you?"
With that, and without a "May I" or "With your permission," he walked past Jo Ann and into the living room. Just as if the place were a public inn, he crossed to the fireplace and put his cap on the mantel. Suddenly Jo Ann found herself trembling as if she had a chill. If fear had frozen her before, it now shook her all over, but even then her first thought was that she must not let Tom and Ted come in. The bandit might begin shooting. And when she thought of that she stopped trembling.
The bandit, when he had put his cap on the mantel, looked at the bridge tables and walked to the one nearest the window that overlooked the road. He took off his belt and laid pistol and holster on the table and took off his overcoat and laid it over a chair. Then he seated himself where he could look at the road.
"That's so he can see if anyone comes," thought Jo Ann.
She slipped through the hall to the kitchen where Wicky was trimming crusts off sandwiches.
"Wicky," she said in a whisper, "the bandit is in there. He's in the living room, and he's got a pistol, and he wants something to eat!"
"Jo Ann! How awful! What can we do?" Wicky asked, white as a sheet.
"The best thing is to feed him and get rid of him as soon as we can," said Jo Ann. "We can't telephone anyone -- the telephone doesn't work. And we must keep the boys out of there. What is in the refrigerator?"
"Lamb chops," said Wicky, looking in the refrigerator. "And boiled potatoes we can slice and fry. And bacon. And canned soup. And we can make coffee. Plenty of cake and stuff here."
"What's the soup?"
"Heat some of it, Wicky."
"And here's apple pie," said Wicky.
"That's enough. You cook the lamb chops. I'll try to keep him talking, and we'll feed him in a hurry and get rid of him. I'm afraid to go in there, but I'll have to. He has a pistol on the table. I guess he's afraid someone may come to capture him. He sat where he could look out the window."
"Is he ugly looking?"
"No. Or, I don't know -- not surely. I was too scared to see. He's youngish."
Jo Ann gathered some dishes from the dish closet and went back to the living room. The bandit was still staring out of the window, watching the road, and he did not turn his head. Jo Ann put the dishes on the table and added knife and fork and spoons and a napkin. She hovered around the man uncertainly a minute.
"We haven't much," she said. "I can give you lamb chops with fried potatoes, tomato soup, coffee and apple pie."
"I don't care what you've got," said the bandit, "but hurry it. Get a move on, sister. Bring it along and don't waste any time. How much will it be?"
"How much?" asked Jo Ann, not understanding what he meant.
"The bill," said the bandit. "The expense. What's your charge?"
He took his purse from his pocket without waiting for an answer and put a dollar bill on the table.
"Take it out of that and keep the change for yourself," he said without taking his eyes from the window. "I'll pay now. I may have to get out of here in a hurry."
Jo Ann went back to the kitchen. Tommy Bassick was there, with Ted Spence. They had armfuls of wood and Wicky was telling them about the bandit.
"Watch your soup," Jo Ann said. "Don't let it scorch. And I'll tell you boys what you can do. Go up the back way into the woods and down past the Russmore Tea Room, and if their telephone is working have them telephone to the post office at Greenville and tell them the bandit is here at Aunt Sue's. If their line is down, go on to Everton Corners and tell somebody there. Tell them he has a pistol."
"Say! We aren't going to leave you girls here alone with a bandit," said Tommy Bassick.
"Don't be a sil'!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "He won't hurt us. All he wants is to be fed and get away from here as soon as he can. Hurry, now."
"Come on, Tommy," said Ted Spence. "It's the thing to do. We couldn't do anything to him."
They put down their wood and went out the back way, and Wicky dished the soup and Jo Ann carried it to the living room and placed it before the bandit.
"How about salt?" he asked. "How about crackers? And rush them, will you?"
"Yes. I'm hurrying everything as much as I can," said Jo Ann.
"That's the girl!" said the bandit. "Push the stuff along as fast as you can."
Jo Ann went for salt and crackers. She was able to tell Wicky now that the bandit was not ugly -- he was quite good looking. She took him salt and pepper and crackers, and remembered bread and butter and got a plate of that, but before she had it ready he rapped on his soup plate.
"I told you to hurry things," he said rather crossly. "Bring what you have right along, will you? I've got to get going. Rush it, can't you?"
"I'll -- I'll tell the cook," said Jo Ann, but when she went to the kitchen the chops were ready to serve, and Jo Ann took them to the bandit. He didn't seem appeased, however.
"I thought you said you had fried potatoes," he complained.
"Oh, we have! I'll get them right away," Jo Ann said, and as the coffee was ready she brought that also. The bandit attacked the chops as if he had eaten nothing for a week. She stood watching him and he said "Sugar!" as if ordering people about was a common thing with him. "Cold pie!" he exclaimed rather scornfully when Jo Ann brought him the apple pie, but he ate it.
"Plenty of it, such as it was," he said, "but I don't think much of your cook. Have you got any cigars?"
Jo Ann remembered that Uncle George had cigars in a box in his room and she went upstairs to get them. From Uncle George's room she could look up and down the road, but not a car was in sight -- not a person. She took down the box of cigars.
"Mercuries," he said. "Pretty poor. Haven't you got anything else?"
"This is all we have," said Jo Ann, wondering what bandits did when they did not like the cigars you had, but the bandit took three of the cigars.
"Three for a quarter, aren't they?" he asked, and he gave Jo Ann twenty-five cents. "Are you all alone here with the cook?"
"Yes," said Jo Ann, suddenly going cold. "Except the maid; she's upstairs with the rheumatism."
"Did you hear anything about a shooting at Greenville?" he asked.
"Y-yes," said Jo Ann. "Somebody telephoned. And then the wire broke or something," she added hastily, lest he might think she had sent a warning, for there was no telling what he might do if he thought that. "Is there anything else?" she asked.
The bandit had lighted the cigar and now he leaned back in his chair comfortably.
"You can get me another cup of coffee," he said, but he did not take his eyes from the window. The fire in the fireplace had burned low and the room was cold, for Jo Ann had forgotten to put coal in the furnace, and now the bandit seemed to notice this. "It's as cold as Greenland in here," he said.
"Oh, dear!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "I forgot the furnace, and now I expect it is out. Aunt Sue and Uncle George went away -- you see, Grandmother was sick -- and they told me to put coal on, and I forgot."
"Don't bother on my account, but get me that coffee, will you?" the bandit asked.
When Jo Ann went to the kitchen for the coffee Wicky was wild to ask questions about the bandit, but Jo Ann silenced her.
"Don't ask questions, Wicky," she said. "I'm having ideas. I don't know, but I believe we can capture the bandit. I do believe we can. Do you know anything about a furnace?"
"Not a thing," Wicky said.
"Neither do I," said Jo Ann, "but there's something you shake. Go down cellar and shake something, Wicky, and then come to the living room and say you don't know what's the matter with the furnace. And I'll say I don't know anything about furnaces. Then you say, 'Well, all the pipes will freeze,' and we'll try to get the bandit to go down and look at the furnace. And if he does, we'll lock him in the cellar. We'll keep him until somebody comes."
She took the coffee to the bandit and presently she heard Wicky shaking the furnace. A minute later Wicky, big-eyed and frightened, came to the living room door.
"Jo Ann," she said, "I don't know what's the matter with the furnace. It -- it --"
That was all she could manage to get out, but the bandit for the first time took his eyes from the window. He turned his head and looked smilingly at Wicky.
"Is that the cook?" he asked Jo Ann, and when she said "Yes," he laughed. "No wonder the chops were raw," he said. "What's this about the furnace?"
"Oh, would you please look at it?" Jo Ann asked eagerly. "Will you?"
"Why, yes," he said. "I'll have a look at it for you," and he got out of his chair. Jo Ann led the way to the cellar door in the kitchen, Wicky trailing after them.
"Down here," Jo Ann said, opening the cellar door, and she snapped on the electric light in the cellar and stood back. The bandit went down the cellar stairs, and Jo Ann closed the stout door softly and pushed home the bolt.
"Wicky, we've got him!" she cried.
They heard the bandit making noises with the furnace, and then heard him shoveling coal into it, and heard him mounting the cellar stairs. He tried the latch but the door would not open.
"Hello, there!" he called through the door. "What's the big idea? Open this door."
"No," called Jo Ann, "we won't. You might just as well be quiet until somebody comes. We've sent for people."
Jo Ann expected the bandit to make a great fuss then, but he merely laughed.
"Open the door," he said. "I know what you think. You think I'm the Greenville bandit. You're away off. I'm one of the fellows hunting for him. Let me out, kids. I've got to be watching the road out there."
"You needn't try to fool us," said Jo Ann. "We won't let you out."
His answer was to bang his shoulder against the door, but the bolt was too stout to be broken, and he was still banging at the door when Aunt Sue and Uncle George came walking out into the kitchen.
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed Aunt Sue. "What's all this? Have you got Tommy and Ted locked in the cellar?"
"It's the bandit," said Jo Ann. "He came here and ordered us to feed him, and we did, and then we got him to go down cellar, and we bolted him in --"
"But, my dear Jo Ann," said Aunt Sue, "you can't have the bandit there because the bandit was captured three hours ago on the Hurley Road. Who on earth have you locked in my cellar?"
The bandit must have heard, for he spoke up instantly.
"I'm Henry Rogers," he shouted. "I'm Henry Rogers, from Greenville."
"The plumber?" asked Uncle George, and at the same time he pushed back the bolt, and Henry Rogers stepped into the kitchen. He was grinning rather sheepishly.
"Hello, George," he said to Jo Ann's uncle. "These girls must have thought I was the bandit. I never knew I looked as tough as all that. Maybe this cut on my face did it -- my car skidded on the icy road and slammed me against the windshield and cut me a little."
"I suppose you were out looking for the bandit yourself," said Uncle George.
"I sure was," said the plumber. "They gave me this road to patrol, although it wasn't very likely the bandit fellow would come this way. There was a chance he might."
Jo Ann was standing back, looking at the plumber with anything but approval.
"Aunt Sue," she said, "anybody would have thought he was the bandit. He had a pistol, and he had a gray overcoat and a gray cap --"
"I don't believe the old pistol would shoot," said Henry Rogers, laughing again. "Bill Turner made me take it, more as a bluff than anything else. It's not loaded and I don't believe it has been loaded for ten years. And that overcoat and cap are the same ones I have been wearing for two years."
"But he came in and ordered me to give him food," said Jo Ann, still only half believing that he was not the bandit. "He didn't say 'Please' or 'Will you be so kind?' or anything. Just as if he owned the place."
At this the plumber laughed louder than ever. And, as was said in the beginning, you must remember that this was the first day of November, and that bad boys play tricks on Halloween.
"You saw it, George, didn't you?" he asked. "The big sign down there on your lawn, leaning against that pine tree? It says, Russmore Tea Room, Prompt Service. Lunch, fifty cents; dinner, one dollar. The Halloween kids must have taken it from the Russmore place and left it here. I thought this was the Tea Room."
So that was why he had walked right in and demanded food. That was why Jo Ann had been so sure he had been the bandit.
"Well, anyway, Wicky," Jo Ann said when they were alone together, "if we didn't catch a bandit we caught a plumber."
"It's not exactly the same thing," Wicky ventured.
"No," said Jo Ann, "but it's a start. The next one may be a bandit. It's all good practice."