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"Jo Ann and the Garden" from American Girl

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

When Jo Ann reached home for the Easter vacation all outdoors was lovely with April green. Jo Ann's heart was singing. There is something about the coming of spring that makes even old trees and old dogs and old horses feel happy and when Jo Ann's taxicab stopped in front of the house, Jo Ann felt like throwing her suitcase in the air and turning handsprings on the sidewalk. She had two full weeks of freedom from school, and there would be a new hat and a new dress and lots of good times. Oh, joy!

The front door of the house opened and Jo Ann's mother came running down the walk and Jo Ann dropped the suitcase and hugged her.

"Jo Ann!" her mother cried. "Oh, not quite so hard, Jo Ann! You're breaking my ribs. Well! It's good to have you home again."

'Oh, Mother! It's just peachy! Two whole weeks of freedom!'

"Oh, Mother, it's just peachy!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "Two whole weeks! And can I get my new things today, Mother?"

"We'll have to get them today," Jo Ann's mother said, smiling good-naturedly, "if you're to wear them tomorrow," for the next day happened to be Easter Sunday.

"And, Mother," Jo Ann said, bubbling with excitement, "I know what I'm going to do this vacation. I'm going to make a garden. There was the loveliest lady talked to us at Wilmot School yesterday -- just suave! -- and she said everyone should have a garden. She had the most beautiful slides of gardens and threw them on a screen. They make you gentle and -- and, you know, Mother -- gentle and happy and everything. Not the slides, Mother, but the gardens. So may I, Mother?"

"Why, of course, Jo Ann," her mother said.

"Oh, spiffy!" cried Jo Ann. "How's Father?"

For the moment she forgot the garden, and when they were inside the house she had a lot to tell about school and before she was through with that the maid from the Bassicks next door rang the bell. She had in her hand a crinkly parcel in green oiled-paper.

'Jo Ann and the Garden' by Ellis Parker Butler

"If you please, mum," she said to Jo Ann's mother, "Mrs. Bassick said would you please give these to Miss Jo Ann with Master Tommy's best compliments?"

"Well!" exclaimed Jo Ann. "What do you know about that! Tommy Bassick sending me Easter flowers!" and she tore off the paper and found a glorious bunch of sweet peas. "Oh! Lovely!" she said, holding them at arm's length. "It was his mother, of course. She made him send them. That red-head wouldn't --"

She buried her nose in them and then she sneezed. She sneezed and sneezed and could not stop sneezing.

"Tchoo! Red pepper. Tchoo! At-choo! At-choo!" she sneezed.

"Oh, Jo Ann! He wouldn't do that," said her mother and she put her nose in the blossoms and she, too, sneezed. They both sneezed.

"He'd do anything -- at-choo!" sneezed Jo Ann. "Throw them out."

But her mother, as soon as she could stop sneezing, put the blossoms in a vase. That evening when Jo Ann was in bed she spoke to Jo Ann's father.

"Don't you see quite a change in Jo Ann, dear?" she asked. "Don't you think she's greatly improved -- more ladylike? Last year she would have started over to annihilate Tommy Bassick the moment he played such a trick on her."

"Well, I don't know," said Jo Ann's father doubtfully. "When she told me about the red pepper she said the way to treat a smarty was to ignore him."

"But wanting to make a garden!" said her mother. "Making a garden is such a nice ladylike occupation, so different from the tomboyish things Jo Ann usually wants to do."

"Well, maybe," said her father. "Perhaps she has outgrown her tomboy stage. Making a garden is all right, but don't let her dig up the whole back yard."

The next day was Easter, but on Monday morning Jo Ann showed her mother the garden she had planned. She had it all drawn out on a sheet of paper like a map, with the names of the flowers where she wanted them. Her mother looked at the paper doubtfully.

"Tulips, of course, you don't plant in the spring, Jo Ann," she said. "And hollyhocks don't bloom the first year. And lilacs and hydrangeas are bushes. And aren't you planning a rather large garden, Jo Ann?"

"It's only sixty by one hundred feet, Mother," said Jo Ann. "I had to make it that big to get in all the flowers that were in the seed catalogue."

"People don't usually try to have every kind of flower," her mother said, "and the whole back yard isn't this big. Your garden would have to come up onto the back porch and into the kitchen unless we moved the garage into the front yard."

"Well, of course, I don't want you to move the garage," said Jo Ann. "Is anything else wrong?"

"Nothing except that you'll be going back to school and there'll be no one but me to water your garden and weed it and thin it out and do the transplanting, and I don't have much spare time. And you'd need a man with two horses to plow up the sod, and a team and wagon to haul the sod away, and five or six loads of topsoil. A garden as big as this really needs two or three men to care for it."

"What ought I do, then?" asked Jo Ann.

"Wouldn't it be better to buy one of those boxes of pansies from a peddler, already in bloom, and plant them around the maple tree?"

"No," said Jo Ann. "I'll be wanting to climb the maple tree."

"Then, if I were you," said Jo Ann's mother in the tone of one who is wise in such matters, "I would choose one flower and plant that one kind only. Something that would be blooming later. And then I could take care of your garden while you are away at school."

"What would be nice?" Jo Ann asked with interest.

"Let me see now. I think sweet peas would be nice."

"Well," said Jo Ann, "then I'll plant some sweet peas." Jo Ann's mother was fond of sweet peas. She thought they were almost the loveliest flowers, not only in form and color but in fragrance, too, and she had carried a shower bouquet of white sweet peas when she was married. She had no wish to manage a garden as big as a park but she was quite willing to take care of a reasonable planting of sweet peas. She would be glad to.

"All right, Mother," Jo Ann said. "I'll plant sweet peas." That afternoon there was a great whanging and banging in the garage, for Jo Ann was making a trellis for her sweet peas to climb. She handled saw and hammer as well as any boy could handle them and better than most, and could drive a nail with one blow. By evening she had ten feet of trellis made.

The next morning Jo Ann selected two posts from the pile of waste lumber behind the garage, and dragged the posts and the trellis to the spot where she had decided the sweet peas were to grow. She spent another hour sharpening small sticks to be driven into the ground, for strings were to be tied to these and run up the trellis to give the infant sweet peas something to cling to when they sprouted. The sod was yet to be dug away and the ground to be loosened and powdered and the fertilizer to be mixed with the soil, and after luncheon Jo Ann's mother got out the car and they went downtown to let Jo Ann buy what else she needed for her garden.

Jo Ann bought a trowel and a ball of string and a ten-pound bag of fertilizer, and then she bought the seeds.

"Are these good sweet peas?" she asked the shopman.

"The best there are," he told her. "These are guaranteed tested seeds."

"Why are they such big packages when the mignonette-seeds are such little thin packages?" Jo Ann asked.

"The reason of that is that most seeds are what you might rightly call seeds," the shopman explained, "but sweet pea seeds are regular peas like the dried peas you cook, only they're sweet peas instead of cooking peas. There ain't so many in a package as it looks."

"Oh!" said Jo Ann. "Do sweet peas have to be cooked or anything before they are planted?"

"No, ma'am!" said the shopman positively. "Don't you go and do anything like that to them. That'd kill them sure. No, ma'am, you just plant them the way they are. They're all ready to plant. And full and complete directions how to plant them are printed out plain on each and every package. How many would you want?"

"Well, I want a good many," said Jo Ann. "You see, I'm not going to grow any flowers this year except sweet peas, and Mother is awfully fond of them."

"I've only got six packages," said the shopman, fumbling through the box. "I dare say you can get some more over to Carter's."

"I'll take these six packages anyway," Jo Ann said, "and see how far they go. Thank you." And the shopman put the six packages of sweet peas in a paper bag.

"Like some cutting shears? Kneeling cushion? Garden gloves? We've got a nice line of vases," said the shopman.

"I might buy a pair of garden gloves if they don't cost too much," said Jo Ann, and she bought a pair of the coarse cotton gloves. They were only twenty-five cents.

"That girl," said the shopman to his assistant when Jo Ann had gone out to the car where her mother was waiting, "is going to have enough sweet peas to smother an elephant -- yes, two elephants. Who is she?"

"Don't you know who she is? She's the girl that lives next door to the Bassicks, in that new house. She's a tomboy. And she don't need sweet peas if she wants to smother elephants; she'd take them by the backs of their necks and push their heads into the ground and think nothing of it. She's a live one, she is."

Jo Ann could hardly wait to put on a smock when she reached home. She rushed up to her room and was down again in two minutes and out in the yard. Anyone who has felt the caress of the soft April air and the delightful urge to plant things that will grow and blossom and be beautiful in the days to follow will know how Jo Ann felt. In imagination she could see her trellis weighted down with pink and white and purple blooms, and herself gathering the long-stemmed fragrant sweet pea blossoms into great luscious bouquets that would fill the house with sweet odor. People would say, as they went by, "May I come in and see your sweet peas? Everyone says they are the finest in town. Oh! Jo Ann, how beautiful they are!" Then she would say, "Wait. I'll pick you some. There are so many we don't know what to do with them! They are rather nice, aren't they?"

She went to the garage to get the spade and she carried it to where the garden was to be. She spread out the packages of seeds and the trowel and the ball of twine and untied the bag of fertilizer and set it nearby, and drew on her new white garden gloves. Jo Ann stood on the spade with both feet and jounced. Then she set the point of the spade against the sod and put her foot on the shoulder of the spade and pushed.

Nothing happened. The sod was tough. She pushed on the spade again and still the spade would not penetrate the tough sod, so she stood on the spade with both feet and jounced. The spade fell forward and Jo Ann fell with it, and the handle of the spade struck the packages of sweet peas, breaking the paper. Jo Ann, undignifiedly down on her hands and knees, looked up toward the Bassick place. No Tommy Bassick seemed to be observing her; no Tommy Bassick gave a loud hoot of derision. She scrambled up and looked at the point of the spade and saw that it was indeed dull. It was not a spade that would cut tough sod, but nothing like that could defeat Jo Ann in her undertaking.

In the cellar was a hatchet and a hatchet will do what a dull spade will not, and Jo Ann dropped the spade and ran to the cellar door. It was locked and she could not get in that way, so she went into the kitchen and down the inside cellar stairs. The hatchet was where she knew she would find it.

From where Tommy Bassick lay on the grass at the top of the terrace that led down into Jo Ann's yard he could not see what Jo Ann had been doing because the garage was in the way. He had seen her come out of the house in a smock and carrying two mysterious looking bundles, but what they contained he could not guess. He had seen her carry the spade from the garage, but he could not guess what she was going to do with it.

Tommy was dressed as an Indian chief, which is to say he wore a feather headdress and had two red streaks painted on his cheeks. He felt a little ashamed of this. He would not have liked any of the boys of Spenceville School to see him playing Indian, but the same spring air that had made Jo Ann want to garden had made Tommy want to get out his headdress again and play Indian, even if it was for the last time.

Tommy lay flat on his stomach at the top of the terrace looking down into Jo Ann's yard just as Chief Black Hawk may once have stretched out on a bluff-edge to observe the white men on the river below him. It never occurred to Tommy that Jo Ann was making a garden. She was probably, he thought, burying her dolls -- if she had any dolls -- and when he saw her hurry to the house and go inside he slid down the terrace and crept through the gap that was in the hedge that stood at the bottom.

When he had reached this point and was just inside Jo Ann's yard, Tommy stood still for a moment. It was well to be cautious, for this mysterious affair might be a trap Jo Ann had planned. But nothing happened and he went forward into the yard cautiously, ready to turn and run for the gap in the hedge if he had to. And still nothing happened.

In his right hand Tommy Bassick carried a small air rifle of the childish sort that is used to shoot peas. He kept his eye on the kitchen door through which Jo Ann had gone. He passed the big maple tree and made for the corner of the garage. And still no Jo Ann.

"If that's what it was," lie thought, "if she did bury a doll, I'll dig it up and she'll be hopping mad. I'll take it along when I go back to Spenceville and hang it up on my wall by the hair, and she'll be raving! I'll put 'Jo Ann's doll' on it. She'll be furious."

But as soon as he rounded the corner of the garage he knew what Jo Ann had been doing. He saw the trowel and the trellis and the broken packages of dried sweet peas.

"Bah!" he exclaimed scornfully. "Planting stuff! Regular girl doings! Squaw's job!"

He might have said more, but he heard a shout and turned to see Jo Ann leaping down the porch steps.

"Hi, you Reddy!" she shouted. "You get away from there!"

If Jo Ann had not had the hatchet, Tommy Bassick might not have done what he did then, but Jo Ann did have the hatchet. He did not know that she wanted the hatchet for nothing more dangerous than cutting the tough sod. He raised his pea-shooting air rifle and pointed it.

"Halt!" he shouted. "Halt!"

Jo Ann did not halt, and Tommy pulled the trigger. Something went "ping!" against the blade of the hatchet and bounced off, and Tommy pulled the trigger again and something went "tig!" against Jo Ann's leg and stung.

"Why, you redheaded wretch, you!" shouted Jo Ann, and she dropped the hatchet and sped toward Tommy. "You'll shoot at me, will you?" she cried.

Even now Tommy had every chance to escape. He was nearer the gap in the hedge than Jo Ann was to where he stood, but as he started to run his foot caught in the meshes of the trellis and he went down. He saw that Jo Ann would reach the hedge before he could reach it. There was but one chance of avoiding her and he took it.

He rushed for the big maple tree at the foot of the terrace and leaped high, caught its lowest branch and drew himself up, and when Jo Ann reached the tree he was scrambling upward as fast as he could.

"You come down here and I'll show you!" Jo Ann shouted. "Coward! You don't dare to come down!"

'You come and get me,' Tommy taunted. 'Squaw! Planting a garden. Come on and get me, why don't you?'

"You come and get me," Tommy taunted. "Squaw! Planting a garden!"

Jo Ann bent down to make the leap for the tree's branch, but her toe touched something and she looked down. It was the pea-shooting rifle that Tommy had dropped when he made his leap for the limb of the tree. Jo Ann picked it up and examined it. It had a lever under the barrel that must be pulled down and pushed up again to pump the air into the gun, and it had an ammunition chamber that would hold a good handful of peas. Jo Ann shook the rifle, but the ammunition chamber was empty. She looked up into the tree and dashed for the spot where her sweet peas lay. She filled the pocket of her smock with sweet peas and dashed back to the tree.

'You come on down here and I'll show you!' Jo Ann shouted. 'Coward! You don't dare come down here!'

Tommy had started down the tree, but Jo Ann poured a handful of dried sweet peas into the ammunition chamber of the air rifle, pumped the lever, and sent a sweet pea zinging up at Tommy. It may have been one that would have produced splendid white blossoms, or one that would have developed a deep maroon striped with white. What it produced now as it met Tommy's leg was an "Ouch!"

"You get back up there then," said Jo Ann, as she looked for vulnerable spots.

She walked around the tree, looking upward. Wherever there was a reasonably large opening between the twigs she sent a dried sweet pea at Tommy's legs. He climbed higher. Now and then he tried coming down the tree, but when he lowered a foot a dried sweet pea stung against his leg and he drew it up again. After one of these attempts Jo Ann ran to her "garden" and gathered up the rest of her sweet peas. When she got back to the tree Tommy was halfway down, but a couple of well-placed sweet peas sent him scrambling up again.

'How long do I have to stay here?' Tommy called.

Jo Ann seated herself in perfect ease.

"Say, you Bassick kid!" she called up when she had shot steadily at him for half an hour or so.

"What?" Tommy asked.

"You called me a squaw. Say you're sorry."

"I won't! I'll stay up here forever before I'll take it back. I wouldn't take anything back I ever called you."

The rifle went "plup!" and another sweet pea went "zing!" and Tommy said "Owp!"

"Now will you take it back?" demanded Jo Ann.

"No!" Tommy shouted.

"Tree-sitter!" said Jo Ann. "He's afraid of a girl, so he sits in trees!"

'I don't know when I'll let you down,' Jo Ann said.

"Squaw!" said Tommy, and the rifle spat again. "Tah! You missed me that time! You think you can shoot! You couldn't hit -- ouch!"

Jo Ann sent a couple more sweet peas up into the tree. He was certainly a stubborn boy. She knew he would never say he was sorry he had called her a squaw, just because he was so stubborn.

"If you say you surrender, I'll let you down," Jo Ann proposed.

"I won't. Boys don't surrender to girls."

There was another long pause. Jo Ann settled herself more comfortably. She refilled the magazine of the rifle with sweet peas.

"Tommy," she called.

"You keep still," he replied.

"I want that headdress," said Jo Ann. "Throw it down to me, Tommy."

"I will not!"

Jo Ann began to shoot. She did not hurry. She pumped the gun slowly, took careful aim and fired. She got up and walked around the tree again, hunting places that exposed Tommy's stockinged calves, and when she saw one she sent a sweet pea up to sting it. She was having a pleasant afternoon. Now she wasted no ammunition, for her stock of dried sweet peas was running low. She waited until she was sure of a perfect shot. This made it all the more annoying for Tommy. It was extremely unpleasant to know that every time the rifle went "plup!" a pea would sting him in the leg. There wasn't any place to put his legs, it seemed, where Jo Ann could not find them.

"Here!" he said suddenly. "You can have it -- I don't want it anyway. I'm too old to play Indians any more. And he pulled the feather headdress from his head and dropped it. It fell part of the way down and caught on a branch.

"Come down and drop it where I can get it," ordered Jo Ann.

"Won't you shoot?"

"No; not while you're doing it," Jo Ann said, and Tommy climbed down to the headdress. He held it above an opening and let it drop.

"Now, you get up there again," Jo Ann ordered.

She placed the headdress on her own head and resumed her watch over the tree. The afternoon was nearing its end. Up in the tree, like a bird on a bough, Tommy whistled awhile, but tired of that.

"Jo Ann," he called down at last.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"How long do I have to stay up here?"

"I don't know. If you say I'm not a squaw and that you're sorry you called me a squaw, you can come down now."

"I won't say it."

"Then I don't know when I'll let you down," said Jo Ann. "I haven't made up my mind yet. But you needn't stay up there on my account."

"Huh!" said Tommy, who could imagine what would happen to him if he came down.

Jo Ann shook the rifle and no sweet peas rattled in the ammunition chamber. She aimed the rifle at the trunk of the tree and pulled the trigger, but no sweet pea hit the tree trunk. She felt in the pocket of her smock. There was but one more sweet pea there, lurking in a corner of the pocket.

"Jo Ann!" called a voice that she knew was her mother's. "Jo Ann! Dinnertime! Come in, dear, and wash up!"

"Yes, Mother," Jo Ann answered. "Just a minute!"

She left Tommy in his tree and went to where her garden was to be. With the trowel she hacked a hole in the sod. She put the lone remaining sweet pea. in the hole, and with the trowel spilled a little soil and fertilizer on top of it, and patted it all down neatly. Then she stuck the trowel in the soil to mark where the sweet pea was planted. Tommy Bassick dropped from the lowest branch of the maple tree and scuttled for home, but Jo Ann did not turn her head. She put the spade and the air rifle and the remaining fertilizer and the ball of twine and the garden gloves and the feather headdress in the garage, and then lugged the two posts and the trellis to the pile of boards behind the garage. She had completed her gardening for that year.

"And how did gardening go, Jo Ann?" asked her mother. "Did you plant your sweet peas?"

"One of them, Mother," Jo Ann said.

"And what did you Jo with the rest of them?" her mother asked. "Why didn't you plant them all?"

"I think one will be enough for you to take care of, Mother," said Jo Ann. "I sort of gave the rest to Tommy Bassick."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:21am USA Central
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