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"Jo Ann and the Jokes" from American Girl

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

Jo Ann tore open the elegant square envelope and there was another elegant envelope inside of that. The address on the outer envelope had been complete -- "Miss Josephine A." and so forth -- but the inner envelope had only her name.

'Be Suave!' Jo Ann urged. 'Who cares for a guest or two extra at a wedding!'

"Well I declare!" exclaimed Jo Ann, all in one word, when she had drawn the neatly engraved invitation from the inner envelope. "Wicky! A wedding -- and I'm invited!"

It was the first formal invitation to a wedding Jo Ann had ever received. She had been a flower girl once, the time she upset the cut-glass punch bowl on the cat, but she had been picked out of her cradle, practically, and hand-led through that wedding.

"Who is it?" asked Wicky, otherwise Jo Ann's roommate at Wilmot School, the no less talented Miss Julia Wickham. "Bassick? Not red-head Tommy Bassick's sister or something, is it?"

"It just is!" Jo Ann declared. "And June twenty-eighth, school will be out, Wicky. We'll go. When the first trumpet sounds, we'll be there with bells on, Wicky."

"We?" inquired Wicky doubtfully. "It doesn't say anything about me going that I can see, Jo Ann."

"Oh, well, fudge for that!" Jo Ann said carelessly. "You're coming home with me when exams are over, and we'd have gone to the wedding anyway. What do you think -- a wedding next door and me not be there? And where I go you go, don't you?"

"Yes, but --" Wicky objected mildly.

"Oh, be suave, girl, be suave!" Jo Ann urged, using the latest school slang. "Whoever cares for a guest or two extra at a wedding as long as they don't steal the wedding presents? They always have to send six quarts of ice cream and half a cord of sandwiches to the poor neighbors when it's all over, anyway. Certainly, you're going to the wedding! And, my!" she exclaimed as she looked at the invitation again. "Look who Nell Bassick is marrying! 'Lieutenant Edgar Chernley Benwood, U.S.N.'"

"Who's he?" asked Wicky. "Is he somebody suave?"

"How do I know who he is, stupid! But 'U.S.N.' is United States Navy, isn't it? And a lieutenant, Wicky! There'll be ushers in navy uniforms, and an arch of swords for Nell and him to come out of church under. Will it be suave? Oh, no! It won't be a little bit suave!"

"I don't remember any Eleanor Bassick," Wicky said, trying to recall one, for she had spent parts of her vacations with Jo Ann.

"No, she was never around very much," Jo Ann admitted. "She's just graduating from Vassar and she'll hardly be home in time to be married, I expect. I never did see her much. She's popular, Wicky, visiting around all vacation, one Vassar girl and another -- the way you are popular, Wicky. Well, this lieutenant must be pretty suave himself for a popular girl like Nell Bassick to marry him. I'll bet he's handsome, Wicky?"

"Is Nell Bassick handsome?" Wicky asked with new interest.

"Well, she looks like a Bassick," Jo Ann said as if that were sufficient condemnation. "You know how Tommy Bassick looks -- freckles and red hair -- only, of course, a girl does do something to cut that blow down some. Not so big, Wicky; she's pony size. But she's nice."

There was no need, as it developed, for Wicky to crash any gates to attend the wedding. Jo Ann's mother was Mrs. Bassick's principal aide in the wedding preparations, and Mrs. Bassick sent particular word that she hoped Jo Ann's friend would come both to the church and to the reception at the house. Jo Ann's mother even brought word that Mrs. Bassick had said that Jo Ann and Wicky might be of quite a little help in arranging the wedding gifts, if they cared to.

"Well, Mother, I guess we'd better not," Jo Ann said. "I guess we'd better just wait and go to the wedding and nothing else."

"You and Julia have so many other things planned?" Jo Ann's mother smiled. "Such busy girls?"

"No, Mother, but there's no use ruining the wedding just to have us put a few presents on tables," Jo Ann explained. "I owe Tommy Bassick too much to go where I'm practically sure to meet him, and I'd hate to get in a fight with him under a table where wedding presents are -- so many of the presents are glass."

"And it practically ruins a clock or a silver pitcher if a table gets upset and spills them on the floor," Wicky said.

"And, anyway, Mother," Jo Ann said, "Mrs. Bassick wouldn't want Tommy all scratched up for the wedding."

"So we'd better not go over," Wicky added.

From the reports Jo Ann's mother brought home it was evident that the wedding was to be in all respects what Jo Ann called "absolutely suave." The church and the parlor where the bride and groom were to receive were to be decorated by Hentz, and the number of white carnations to be used was astounding. The catering was to be by Francini and he was to furnish the wedding cake. Jo Ann's mother said the cake was to be a tremendous one. Nell's dress she described as old ivory moyen age with real lace, moyen age headdress with lace veil.

"It is very beautiful," Jo Ann's mother said, "but it would be even more so if Nell were taller. She's such a small person -- hardly taller than you, Jo Ann."

There were to be six bridesmaids and a matron-of-honor and two tiny flower girls, and Jo Ann's mother verified Jo Ann's guess that young naval officers were to be the ushers, wear their uniforms and make an arch of swords at the church door. Altogether it was going to be a very grand affair. The young officers had all been classmates of Edgar Benwood at Annapolis.

"I hear they are very jolly and full of fun" Jo Ann's mother reported, but she looked a little serious when she said it, and she added, "I hope nothing annoying happens. It would be most unpleasant."

"What would happen?" Jo Ann asked, but her mother did not answer that. Instead, she appealed to Jo Ann.

"Josephine," she said, "I want you to promise not to get into any trouble with Tommy Bassick during the wedding. I think it is very nice of Mrs. Bassick to invite you and Julia, when one thinks of the way you and Tommy always quarrel. You'll promise, Jo Ann, not to make trouble for Tommy until the wedding is over, won't you?"

Jo Ann promised, but she told Wicky the next morning that she wished she hadn't. Now they wouldn't have any fun.

"I owe that red-head a few troubles," she told Wicky, "and we might have had some wonderful chances to show him a thing or two. A wedding would be a wonderful place, Wicky; he'd be all dressed up and acting suave, and we could pounce down like the wolf on the fold -- but Mother has spoiled all that. She's all for peace."

But Jo Ann's mother had not spoiled it entirely. Jo Ann asked her a question just as she was hurrying over to the Bassicks' and she answered it too thoughtlessly, her mind probably being on something else.

"Mother, when does a wedding end? When would you call it over?" Jo Ann asked.

"Over?" Jo Ann's mother repeated. "Why, usually it is over when the bride goes up to change into her going-away gown, Jo Ann. Sometimes, when there is dancing, the dance goes on after that, but I would say that when the bride goes up to change, the wedding is over."

"Oh!" said Jo Ann, but her mother was already on her way to the Bassicks'. "Well," Jo Ann said to Wicky, "that is what I call perfectly suave! As soon as the wedding is over, and that means when Nell goes upstairs to change, we can treat that smarty Bassick boy any way we want. What shall we do to him?"

Before that could be decided, Will McKinnon and Clarence Dorr, two friends of Jo Ann, came. They had been talking with Tommy Bassick, they said, and he had sent a warning.

"He said you were invited to the wedding," Will McKinnon told Jo Ann, "and he said to tell you to behave."

"He said to tell me what?" Jo Ann cried. "That carroty kid! What did he say to tell me?"

"To behave," Will repeated, grinning. "That's what he said. 'You tell Nuisance' -- that's what he calls you now, Jo Ann -- 'you tell Nuisance,' he said, 'that I'll let her come to the wedding, but she's got to behave.'"

"Well, of all the impertinent nerve!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "He sent word, did he?"

"Yes," said Clarence, "he said he didn't want you mussing things up. He's got bigger business on hand than fooling with you."

"Yes, the ushers have come already," Will explained. "Nobody knows it yet; they're not supposed to arrive till this afternoon, but they're all at the hotel and they had Tommy go to the hotel. Say, I'd give ten dollars if I could go to the reception at the house."

"Why?" asked Jo Ann, concealing her indignation at Tommy's impertinence.

"This fellow Nell is marrying -- this Lieutenant Benwood --" Will said, "he's been a hot one at weddings. He's been an usher at a lot of weddings of navy men, and he's always fixed up a lot of jokes."

"Tying tin cans to the automobile and that sort of thing?" asked Jo Ann.

Tommy, with his usual determination, set out to prevent Jo Ann and Wicky from getting near enough to catch the bride's bouquet.

"Pooh, no! That's common stuff -- anybody can do that. These navy men do things when they start to do them. Why, at one wedding this Edgar Benwood and the other fellows got a pair of handcuffs -- chained together, of course -- and while the bride was standing at the reception, they handcuffed her ankle to her mother's ankle, and threw away the key. They had to get a blacksmith to file the handcuffs off, and the bride and her husband missed their train and everything!"

"I think that was perfectly horrid!" said Jo Ann.

"You do? It was a joke. And another time they kidnapped the groom entirely -- grabbed him as he came out of the house, and hustled him into an automobile and off with him! That time the bride and groom didn't only miss their train. They missed all the trains. They didn't even see each other until the next day."

"That's horrid! That's absolutely horrid!" Jo Ann cried.

"Yes? Well, I guess that's nothing to what they'll do now that they've got a chance to get back at Lieutenant Benwood," Clarence said.

"What are they going to do?" asked Jo Ann, feigning innocence.

"I don't know that," Will McKinnon said cautiously. "I wouldn't tell if I did know."

"Oh, come on, Will! Tell us!" Jo Ann coaxed.

"Do you promise, cross your heart, you won't tell anyone?" Will asked.

"Yes, I do," Jo agreed. "Tell me, Will."

"This time they're going to kidnap the bride," Will said, grinning. "They're going to grab her as soon as she comes downstairs to leave, and they're going to hustle her into a car and break all the speed limits, and hide her somewhere for a day -- maybe longer. That's why they sent for Tommy -- they don't dare kidnap her for that long unless somebody is with her, a sort of chaperon. So Tommy is going to go, too. He'll be in the car when they hustle her in -- her reception committee, you see."

"I think he's beastly!" Jo Ann declared. "I think he's just the limit, helping play such a joke on his own sister!"

"Oh, it's all a joke!" Will laughed. "Nell knows she's marrying a navy man, and she knows the jokes Edgar Benwood played on the others, so I guess she expects something to happen."

"And what will Edgar Benwood be doing all the time they are stealing his bride?" Wicky asked.

"He'll probably be lying flat on the floor of the room he goes up to change his clothes in, with four fellows sitting on him," Clarence said. "But, you remember you promised you wouldn't say a word of this to anybody, Jo Ann -- not a single little word to anybody at all."

"I keep my promises," Jo Ann said most haughtily. When the boys had gone, Jo Ann and Wicky gathered together in a bunch of two and talked this amazing state of things over. It is sad to have to state that they did not worry much about the proposed kidnapping of Nell Bassick. Some sort of silly jokes were always being played on brides and grooms, and they supposed Nell must have expected something or she would not have chosen to marry a navy man who had a reputation as a joker at weddings. That was as it might be, but it was not in Jo Ann's nature to let Tommy Bassick triumph over a girl, even if that girl was his own sister -- indeed, her enemy's sister!

"We've got to rally around Nell," Jo Ann said. "Nobody else is going to. It's up to you and me, Wicky."

"We can't fight the whole navy," Wicky said simply.

Jo Ann wrapped her arms around her knees and sank her chin between the knees and reflected.

"But we can fight that red-headed Tommy Bassick." she said. "Wicky, you've never been in the Bassick's attic, have you? You don't know the clothes closet they built up there, do you? Well, it's good! It's strong. And I know where they keep the key -- behind a board just at the top of the attic stairs. If Tommy Bassick was locked in that cedar closet, he couldn't get out for a long, long time!"

"Yes? Go on!" Wicky urged eagerly.

"Well, the boys said that the navy wouldn't dare kidnap Nell unless Tommy went with her. Don't you see? We'll kidnap Tommy first, Wicky. Mother says a wedding is over when the bride goes up to change into her going-away clothes. So we'll have a right to agitate as soon as Nell goes up -- and they won't try to kidnap her until she comes down, I expect. So we'll let them sit on Edgar Benwood awhile, if they want to, but we'll put Tommy in the cedar closet in the attic, and the kidnaping won't happen."

"But can we put him in the closet?" Wicky asked. Jo Ann looked at her chum scornfully. The look was enough.

"If I couldn't put Tom Bassick in a closet I might as well be a boy, or something else helpless, and be done with it!" Jo Ann said.

Finally Nell stood on the stairs and threw her bouquet, and she and Edgar Benwood rushed up together, and the wedding was over.

The wedding, as it turned out, was as beautiful as Mrs. Bassick had hoped it would be. In spite of her small size, Nell was very lovely in her moyen age wedding gown as she walked up the aisle on the wedding afternoon. The navy men were superb in their uniforms. The decorations were perfect. The organist never played better. The arch of swords at the church door was most thrillingly impressive.

At the house everything was equally fine. Here, too, the floral decorations were just right as a setting for Nell and her new husband to stand against, and Nell -- if a little nervous, as one would be who was not sure what jokes the ushers would be up to -- was smilingly happy. Lieutenant Benwood was handsome enough to please anyone, and hardly anybody knew that he was wearing a wig.

The wig, for a wig that had been bought by telephone and sent by special messenger, was a good fit. A wig had had to be bought because one of the playful jokes of the ushers had been to hold Lieutenant Benwood down and shave his head of its crop of beautiful hair. They had done this that morning, just as a starter.

But the catering was perfect, and Francini's waiters were inconspicuous yet always at hand to present an ice or a salad or take a cup or plate. And the wedding cake was a beauty. Nell cut it herself.

Mr. Bassick, who was always a good-natured man, seemed even more than usually jovial. He was especially jovial with the young naval men, clapping them on the back and laughing so often that they began to be worried, particularly as he would say, "Well, I suppose you fellows will be up to some smart joke or other!"

"What does he mean by that?" one would say to another when Mr. Bassick had passed on to another group. "Why, he acts as though he thought the joke was on us."

Jo Ann and Wicky had a good time. They had had a good seat in the church, and they had two full rounds of refreshments, and went through the reception line three times. Finally Nell stood on the stairs and threw her bouquet, and she and Edgar Benwood rushed up the stairs, and the wedding was over.

"Come! Quick!" Jo Ann whispered to Wicky, for more than Nell and her husband had gone up the stairs. Wicky had her arms around Tommy's coat and Jo Ann bound the napkin over a mouth that had not had time to utter a cry. Tommy had gone up also, just after he had prevented Jo Ann and Wicky from getting near enough the stair rail to catch the bride's bouquet. Jo Ann led the way up the back stairs. Then they carefully laid their hats in Mrs. Bassick's bedroom and posted themselves at Tommy Bassick's door. Jo Ann held in her hand one of the large napkins that had done duty during the reception, and its use was already planned.

But, all unknown to Jo Ann and Wicky, downstairs Mr. Bassick's unusual joviality was being explained. No sooner had Nell and the others rushed up the front stairs than the front door opened and in filed six of the town policemen. Three stationed themselves at the front door and three at the back door, good-natured but ready for business and, outside, ten other policemen made a guard between the house and the car Edgar Benwood and his bride were to take. Mr. Bassick was having his own little joke.

This, of course, Jo Ann and Wicky knew nothing about. Hidden a little, they saw the door of Tommy Bassick's room open and the next moment Wicky had her arms around Tommy's coat, holding a pair of arms so they could neither push nor hit, and Jo Ann was binding the napkin over a mouth that had not had time to utter a cry.

"Quick, Wicky! Quick!" she cried. "You take his arms -- I'll take his feet."

He did not kick much or struggle much -- just some. They hustled their burden up the attic stairs and into the cedar clothes closet and locked the door of the closet and went downstairs again.

"Come on, Wicky!" Jo Ann said. "We'd better get away from here!" and they went to get their hats and went down the back way and out. One of the policemen grinned at them.

"All right, gurrls!" he said. "Run along wid ye!" and they went home. In the house Wicky giggled.

"Jo Ann," she said, "how long are you going to leave Tommy in the closet? And won't he be furious!"

"And I think we're pretty good, to beat the whole navy," Wicky said. "Just two girls, and there were six of them -- seven, if you count Tommy."

"Oh, well!" declared Jo Ann. "Two girls ought to be better than seven men any time. Are you hungry?"

"No, I'm stuffed." Wicky said.

"So am I," Jo Ann agreed. "It was good eats, Wicky. Can you see anything out of the window?"

"Nothing much," Wicky said, looking out. "Lots of automobiles there yet."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:23am USA Central
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