from American Girl
Jo Ann's Drama
by Ellis Parker Butler
Jo Ann stood in the hay loft of Gertner's barn with Wicky Wickham, Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence, and looked around. Mrs. Gertner had said there was nothing up there but there was. Half a dozen boxes were there, and cigarette butts and ends of matches were on the floor. Jo Ann hardly saw these as she looked at the hay loft.
"It's dandy!" she exclaimed. "It's just spiffy, Wicky. This raised part can be the stage, and the audience can sit in that lower part. Tommy and Ted can string up some sheets for a curtain and to make dressing rooms, and they can get chairs or make benches."
"Tommy and Ted can!" jeered Tommy Bassick. "We can do all the work. Oh, yes! And what will you be doing while we work our heads off?"
"I will be writing the play," said Jo Ann haughtily. "Wicky will be helping me."
"Oh, Jo Ann!" cried Wicky ecstatically. "Will you really let me help you ?"
"Yes," said Jo Ann. "There has to be one copy for each of the actors. You can make the copies."
Jo Ann's birthday was the eighteenth of February and her mother had said she might have a birthday party. She had seen several plays recently and had loved them, so she had decided that a play must be part of her party, but her mother had said the house would be mussed up sufficiently by the party part of the party and that the play could not be given in the house. This was why Jo Ann was viewing the loft of Gertner's barn. It stood on the lot back of the house of Jo Ann's parents and the party could troop over and see the play and then return to the house for refreshments. It was to be an afternoon party.
The Four Musketeers -- so Tommy and Jo Ann and Ted and Wicky called themselves since they had become friends -- had already discussed the play and decided what it should be about, Jo Ann doing most of the deciding, as she usually did. They had talked that over before coming to see the loft.
"It can be a Valentine party, Jo Ann, and we can have a Valentine play," Wicky had said. "The eighteenth is close enough to Valentine's Day to make that all right."
"No, listen," said Tommy Bassick. "Washington's Birthday is the twenty-second. Make it a Washington's Birthday play, Jo Ann, because I won't dress up and be some kind of silly valentine. Ted can be George Washington. I want to be an Indian and scalp somebody."
Tommy thought a lot of himself as an Indian. He had an Indian outfit he was proud of.
"But, Jo Ann," said Wicky, "Ted couldn't be George Washington if it is really a George Washington Birthday play. A birthday is the day a person is born, and Ted's too big for a baby that young."
"My birthday is just exactly in between Valentine Day and Washington's Birthday," said Jo Ann, "and the play is going to be about both. And that settles that. I'll have a Valentine-Washington party and a Valentine- Washington play, so you needn't talk any more about it."
"Are you going to have a battle in the play?" asked Tommy Bassick. "I want to be an Indian and scalp --"
"Oh, Jo Ann!" cried Wicky ecstatically. "Will you really let me help you ?"
"Oh, stop saying you want to scalp somebody!" cried Jo Ann. "I'll let you scalp somebody if that's all that will satisfy you. You can be an Indian. I'll write an Indian part for you, and you can wear that Indian costume of yours."
"And, Jo Ann," begged Wicky, "you know that dress I have. Let me be Martha Washington, won't you?"
"You can't be Martha Washington if George Washington is a baby, can you ? You weren't born yet when George Washington was a baby. But, I'll tell you, Wicky, you can be Mary Washington."
"Who was she?"
"She was George Washington's mother."
"And may I rock a cradle, Jo Ann? May I rock dear little George Washington in a cradle?"
"Yes. We'll have to get a cradle somewhere, and we'd better use a doll. A real baby would just about freeze to death up here. And Ted can be Augustine Washington."
"Who was he?" asked Ted.
"He was George Washington's father."
"Well, if I've got to be," said Ted. "I'd rather be George Washington. I'd like to be George Washington crossing the Delaware."
"How can you be George Washington crossing the Delaware if George Washington is a baby?" asked Wicky.
"But he could," said Tommy eagerly. "If I'm an Indian chief I could be coming with my tribe of warriors to massacre the inhabitants, and Wicky could pick up George Washington and flee with him. She could cross the Delaware on the ice, like Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. And, say," he exclaimed as he gained enthusiasm, "we could have bloodhounds chase her. I know some dandy dogs I could borrow."
"I won't be chased by dogs. I hate dogs," said Wicky.
"Oh, come on!" pleaded Tommy. "We'll put muzzles on them. I know how to make ice for you to cross on. You just take boxes and cover them with cloth and paint them ice color."
"What is ice color? How do you paint ice color?" asked Ted.
"Why, blue for blue ice, and green for green ice, and white for snow on the ice," explained Tommy.
"I should think it ought to be red, white and blue for a Washington Birthday play," jested Ted. "I want white ice -- white ice for when I cross the Delaware. Jo Ann, can't I cross the Delaware, please?"
"Yes, I guess you can, Ted," Jo Ann said.
"But, Jo Ann," objected Wicky, "George Washington was born at Wakefield, in Virginia, and that isn't anywhere near the Delaware. It's miles and miles from it. I wouldn't be taking a baby all that way in freezing, icy weather."
"Don't be silly," Jo Ann said. "If Ted is George Washington he wouldn't be a baby. A play can have more than one act in it, can't it? I think this play will have three acts in it, and George Washington can grow up between the acts."
"One act could be a battle," said Tommy Bassick eagerly. "I'll scalp somebody in a battle. That would make it terribly exciting."
"I don't think I want a battle in it," said Jo Ann. "I'll have to think it all out, and get a plot for it. There ought to be something helpful and improving in it. A play ought to teach something."
"When I'm rocking the cradle," said Wicky helpfully, "my husband could come in, and I could say 'Listen, Augustine, to what I've just been reading in this book about the care and feeding of infants.' And then I could read a page or two."
Tommy Bassick howled.
"'Care and feeding of infants!'" he jeered. "The bunch that will be at the party would rather hear about the 'care and feeding' of rabbits. That's the very worst idea yet."
It was quite a lively discussion and Jo Ann let them talk, but she meant to write the play as she chose. Wicky suggested that in the second act she might be Betsy Ross, making the first American flag, and that George Washington might bring her a valentine, thus getting Valentine's Day into the play, but Ted said he didn't think that George Washington would write a valentine for Betsy Ross because he was already married to Martha Custis. The discussion ended with but two suggestions accepted by Jo Ann. One was that Tommy could be an Indian and scalp someone in one of the acts, and the other was that Wicky could rock the young George Washington in a cradle. Jo Ann said that if she could manage to get the scene into her plot she would let Ted Spence cross the Delaware, but until she had thought out a plot she could not be sure.
Mrs. Gertner, when they went down from the loft, was dipping a batch of doughnuts from hot grease, placing them on brown paper, and she made the Four Musketeers each take one. Jo Ann told her that they had looked at the loft and that it was a perfectly wonderful place to have the play.
"It's just what we want, Mrs. Gertner," she told the fat, good-natured woman. "It couldn't be better. The ladder going up to what will be the back of the stage makes it just right for my actors to get up there while the audience is going up the stairs."
"So?" said Mrs. Gertner. "Ain't that nice! And it was all nice and clean, no?"
"Well, almost. There were some cigarette ends and burnt matches."
"Hah! Them bad boys from back by the hill sneaks up there yet, I bet you. Six of them there are and no good. How could I keep them out, busy like I am?"
"And it will be all right if we fix up curtains and seats a few days early?"
"Oh, sure! Always I like to see young peoples having a good time. And for a George Washington party more than ever, yes. In my fatherland, before I ever come to America yet, have we on the wall a picture of George Washington. Always says my father, 'Look once. There sits a great man, Teena.' Always you must remember that great man's name."
She pronounced the name "Chorch Vosshington" but there was real admiration in her voice.
"Always my father says, 'Soon we go by the country where that great man lived and died, Teena', and we come when I am sixteen year old yet."
She insisted that they each take another of her luscious crullers, and they went back to Jo Ann's munching them.
As often happens when an author has to write something in a hurry for a special occasion, Jo Ann could not think of any plot for her play. Every idea she had ever had seemed to have fled from her brain. She wrote page after page, tearing each page into bits and throwing the bits into her waste basket.
Wicky tried to help her, offering suggestions, but for once Jo Ann was cross.
"Oh, do be still!" she cried. "How can I think when you chatter? I wish I had never said I would write a play."
Again and again she headed sheets of paper with George Washington's Valentine and wrote under that "A Play in Three Acts", and followed this with:
"Oh, Jo Ann!" cried Wicky ecstatically. "Will you really let me help you ?"
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mrs. Mary Washington
She got no further than this. She found herself making squares and circles and houses on the paper as she racked her brain for ideas that would not come.
And then, suddenly, what seemed a splendid plot popped into her mind all complete and ready to be put on paper. She began to write at full speed and with such vigor that the point of her pencil snapped. She picked up another and wrote, hardly stopping long enough at the ends of sentences to put in a period. Now and then she crossed out a word and wrote another in its place.
"Wicky, I've got it!" she cried. "It's simply spiffy. I've got everything in. I've got the valentine in, and I've got George Washington in every act. I'm a spy. I'll dress in men's clothes. I'm the villain, Wicky."
"Am I Mrs. Washington?" asked Wicky.
"Yes. You rock a cradle," laughed Jo Ann. "I didn't forget that. And Tommy scalps somebody. And Ted is George Washington. Everything is in that everybody wanted in. Except a battle. There's an after-the-battle, so Tommy can scalp me. Shall I read it to you, Wicky?"
"Of course, Jo Ann. I'm dying to hear it."
Jo Ann cleared her voice.
"It's called George Washington's Valentine," she explained, "and the play is in three acts, Wicky. The first act is in Mr. Augustine Washington's home at Wakefield, and George Washington is a baby in the cradle."
"Am I rocking it?" asked Wicky.
"Not yet. You aren't in the room yet. The baby is alone in the cradle. Then Mr. Augustine Washington comes in."
AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON: Ah, there is my baby George Washington, and he has just been born lately. Well, I am pretty busy, so I guess I'll hang up my old coat here and go out and plant a cherry tree. By the time it grows up George will be old enough to eat cherries, I guess.
"But, Jo Ann," said Wicky, "they say that George Washington didn't really cut down a cherry tree. They say that was only a fable."
"What of it?" asked Jo Ann. "What if he didn't? That wouldn't stop his father from planting a cherry tree if he wanted to, would it? Anyway, Mr. Washington goes out to plant a cherry tree, and Jim Turner comes in. He's a spy and he's looking for something to spy about."
JIM TURNER: Well, I guess here is where Jim Turner, the spy, has a chance to steal a valuable document without anybody knowing it. (He takes something from Mr. Washington's pocket and goes out as Mrs. Mary Washington comes in).
MRS. WASHINGTON: Well, well! Here is my dear baby George Washington. Just think, some day he may grow up and win the Revolutionary War and be President of the United States. I guess I will rock him awhile. (She rocks the cradle and sings to George Washington, and Mr. Washington comes in).
AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON: I see you are rocking George Washington in his cradle, wife. And, by the way, I wrote a valentine for you on Valentine's Day but I was so busy with one thing and another I forgot to give it to you. (He looks in his coat pocket). Well, well, it is gone. Somebody took it out of my pocket. Did you see anybody around here?
MRS. WASHINGTON: I saw that mean spy, Jim Turner, go out as I came in.
AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON: Curses upon him. He must have thought it was some kind of valuable document. Listen! I hear the footsteps of his horse departing. It is too late to get it back now.
"I think that's great, Jo Ann," Wicky said. "Read the second act."
"The second act is the place where the Battle of Monongahela was fought, but the battle is over," said Jo Ann. "George Washington is a man now and he is looking at the battlefield."
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Well, well! This Battle of Monongahela was a pretty bad battle and I guess General Braddock is a good deal defeated by the French and Indians. He didn't half expect the defeating that he got.
INDIAN GIRL: Yes, sir, Mr. Washington, he is badly defeated, and he is also dead.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: What is that Indian chief over in that corner doing?
INDIAN GIRL: He is scalping that mean spy, Jim Turner, that has been bothering us so much lately. (The Indian Chief brings something to George Washington.)
INDIAN CHIEF: Heap big Indian chief scalp that mean spy, Jim Turner. Big chief find this letter in his pocket. No know how to read. You keep um.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Well, well! This is not a letter. This is the valentine my father wrote for my mother in 1732, when I was a baby. That Jim Turner stole it. I guess he thought it was a valuable document.
INDIAN GIRL: You keep it?
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Yes, it is poetry and I like poetry. I will always keep it in my pocket. Well, goodbye. I guess this war is about over, so I will go home and get married to Martha Custis.
"I suppose I'm the Indian Girl in that act," said Wicky. "I can be that. But, Jo Ann, how can Tommy scalp you? Even if you wear a wig for him to scalp, your hair will show after he scalps you."
"I can lie with my feet to the audience so they can't see my hair," said Jo Ann. "Shall I read the third act? In the third act you are Martha Washington. I made the third act 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' because Ted wanted to be crossing the Delaware, and I'm having Martha Washington in the boat."
"But why would Martha Washington be crossing the Delaware?" asked Wicky. "I thought it was just the Revolutionary army keeping out of the way of the British."
"Oh, don't be so fussy!" exclaimed Jo Ann. "Things have to be different in plays sometimes. I guess you are just going part of the way with your husband because you don't see him very often. Now, listen."
MARTHA WASHINGTON: Well, General Washington, here we are, crossing the Delaware River in a boat.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Yes, so I notice, and it is a very bad day for row boating, too, with all this ice about. If the boat should sink we would all be drowned in this icy water.
MARTHA WASHINGTON: Yes, we would, and I feel water getting into my shoes now.
INDIAN CHIEF: General! General! Boat got heap big leak. Us all get drowned in Delaware River.
MARTHA WASHINGTON: Alas! Alas! Hasn't somebody got something to stop the leak with?
BOATMAN: Alas! Alas! I haven't got anything. We will all be drowned.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Alas! Alas! Now I will never win the Revolutionary War and be President of the United States.
MARTHA WASHINGTON: Alas! Alas! What shall we do?
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Wait a minute -- I have something here in my pocket. Yes, it is the valentine my father wrote for my mother. Take it and stop the leak with it. It may do.
BOATMAN: Hurrah! Hurrah! We are saved. The valentine has stopped the leak. How glad I am that one of the days in February is Valentine's Day and that General George Washington got back this valentine from that mean old spy.
MARTHA WASHINGTON: Yes, and I am glad there was a Washington's Birthday, because if there hadn't been he wouldn't have been in this boat and we would all have been drowned. Three cheers for the red, white and blue!
For a minute or so after Jo Ann had finished reading the play Wicky said nothing. Then she saw that Jo Ann was waiting.
"Why, Jo Ann, I think it is splendid," said Wicky. "I think it is just wonderful. You've got everything in it -- the valentine and George Washington and the scalping -- and I know the boys will love it. It's great."
"I'm glad you like it," said Jo Ann, trying to seem modest. "It isn't so easy to write a play. I don't mean I'm a genius or anything, Wicky, but I think it is a pretty good play."
Ted, when Jo Ann read the play to the boys, thought the play was fine. He was in every act and was the most important character. Tommy Bassick was not quite so pleased.
"All right," he said. "I guess it has got to do, but if I wrote a play about George Washington, I'd have more battles in it. I'd have a real battle. From your play, Jo Ann, they'll think that all he did was lie around in cradles and stand in boats and carry old valentines around in his pockets."
"Then you write the play," said Jo Ann. "Make it all battles for all I care."
Ted saw she was offended by Tommy's implied criticism and he hastened to try to smooth things over.
"Now, don't be huffy, Jo Ann," he said. "We like your play all right. We think it's a dandy play, don't we, Tommy? But you could make it four acts, you know. You could write in another act with a battle."
Jo Ann folded her manuscript. Her lips were set very severely.
"Write your own play, then," she said after a moment. "I work and work, and I think and think, and I write a perfectly good play, and then you want to change it."
"Oh, now, Jo Ann!" Ted begged. "Don't fly off the handle, please. Your play is all right. We'll act it exactly as you wrote it."
"You'll act it just the way I wrote it, or you won't act it at all," Jo Ann declared, and presently she was pacified. The boys went over to Tommy Bassick's to make the ice for the Delaware River.
"The only thing I hope," said Jo Ann, "is that the audience won't be bored by the play. That's the awfullest thing that can happen. When an audience is bored by a play, it is just dreadful."
"They won't be bored by your play, Jo Ann," Wicky said, and she did not know how true her prediction was.
Saturday morning a dress rehearsal was held in Gertner's loft and it went off well enough. Jo Ann had some trouble with the moustache she wore as the spy, Jim Turner. It would not stay straight on her face, one end going up and the other down when she spoke, but the scalping was a success. The boat Tommy and Ted had made of wooden strips and brown paper looked almost like a boat, and the cakes of ice -- even if they looked a little as if they had just been delivered to the Delaware River by an iceman -- did look quite like ice.
At half-past three the guests trooped out of Jo Ann's house and ran laughing to the Gertner barn and up the steps to the loft. Jo Ann and Tommy and Wicky and Ted Spence hurried into their costumes and reached the barn as the others did, and climbed the ladder to the stage.
The sight that greeted the audience as it entered the loft was one of destruction. The sheets were torn down, the cradle and boat were smashed and ruined, even the ice had been broken into kindling, and on the stage the hill boys jeered at the audience.
And then Jo Ann and Tommy and Ted Spence and Wicky reached the top of the ladder. One moment was enough for Jo Ann to understand what had happened, and she leaped at the biggest of the hill boys. Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence went into action, too. Although the hill boys were big and six to four, they had the disadvantage of being in the wrong and they knew they were. For a few minutes they did try to fight back and they were minutes of the liveliest action Gertner's hay loft had ever seen. Then the intruders ran for the ladder, and half fell and half climbed down.
The audience, puzzled by the suddenness with which the "play" had begun, was still standing but the applause when the battle was won was long and loud.
"Great! Hot stuff!" one of the boys shouted, and one girl said to another, "It's a George Washington play, so they had to have a battle in it, but I don't know what battle it was."
"Maybe it was the battle of White Plains," said the other girl. "My, it's cold up here! I wish Jo Ann would hurry up."
Wicky, now that the excitement was over, was crying quietly with her back to the audience. Jo Ann was breathing hard and looking at the wreckage. Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence were cleaning up the debris, pushing it to one side of the stage, and the applause of the audience continued. It liked the play. It was enthusiastic and wanted more.
Jo Ann took a deep breath and gave her moustache a sharp twist. The audience had seated itself and was becoming quiet. For only a moment longer Jo Ann hesitated. Then she turned to Wicky.
"Wicky, come on!" she said. "Stop sniffling. We'll give the play anyway. It's no worse than if we'd let Tommy have a battle in it."
She stooped and picked up the doll that was to be the infant George Washington and handed it to Wicky. Jo Ann went to the front of the stage.
"That showed how George Washington could fight if he really had to," she said in a clear, loud voice. "Now we will have the second act, and this --"
She looked around and after a second's thought selected one of the cakes of Delaware River ice that was least demolished and turned it upside down.
"And this," she said, "this is George's cradle."
The audience applauded. It applauded the cradle, and it applauded Jo Ann. It applauded tumultuously throughout the entire play.
"Jo Ann," asked one of the parry guests when the play was over, "what battle was that in the first act?"
"Why, that," said Jo Ann, "was the Battle of Gertner's barn."