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"Jo Ann and Santa Claus" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
Jo Ann and Santa Claus
by Ellis Parker Butler

That very morning, in the room she shared with Wicky Wickham at Wilmot School, Jo Ann had talked about Santa Claus. Jo Ann said she wished she could be a forester when she grew up. She would like to range the woods, fell great trees, plant great forests.

"Why don't you be one then?" Wicky asked her tomboy chum.

"I can't, that's why," Jo Ann said. "They don't let women have any decent jobs -- foresters or things like that. It makes me sick!"

"They let women do anything that men do, almost," Wicky said.

"They certainly don't!" Jo Ann cried. "We can't be sailors, or pirates, or locomotive engineers. We can't even be Santa Claus. They always have to pick men to be anything that is any fun."

Jo Ann was quite fierce about it. She thought it was a huge injustice. She had battled Tommy Bassick all her life, and she could throw him in a fair wrestle, and outrun him, and bat a ball better than he could, and yet when Tommy grew up he would be allowed to do things forbidden to Jo Ann. It made Jo Ann wild.

"You wait!" she said threateningly. "I'll show them!"

That evening Edgar Benwood brought in the Christmas tree from the garage.

So, when Jo Ann found the letter from Nell Benwood in her box, she had the great idea.

"Oh, how dear!" she exclaimed first, when she read Nell's letter. "Wicky! Nell Benwood has invited you and me to spend Christmas with her in her ducky new house! Listen to this -- 'Come the day before Christmas. There are eight or ten children in the neighborhood and I'm going to have a Christmas tree for them, with a Santa Claus and everything, and I know you and Wicky will love it.' Isn't that suave? We'll go, of course."

"Won't your family care?" Wicky asked, for she had promised to spend Christmas at Jo Ann's.

"No, I don't think so. We can go up to Nell's the day before Christmas, and --"

Jo Ann stopped short and a gleam came into her eyes.

"Wicky!" she exclaimed. "I'm going to be Santa Claus!

It's time we women showed the men we're just as good as they are. I'm going to telegraph Nell this minute!" She did, too, but when she received Nell Benwood's reply an hour or two later Jo Ann was furious.

"Sorry," the telegram read, "but I have asked Tommy to be Santa Claus."

"I told you!" Jo Ann declared. "Didn't I say so? 'No Women Need Apply!' Well, just the same --"

"Just the same what, Jo Ann?"

"Just the same, I'm going to be Santa Claus! I've had just about all of that Tommy Bassick I can stand and more. Nell will tell him I asked to be Santa Claus and he'll be crowing all over the place. I know what I'll do -- he'll pick something off the Christmas tree and give it to me, and it will be some crazy thing that will make everybody laugh at me. A lemon, probably. Or a pair of pants with 'For tomboy' pinned on them. Well, he won't. And he won't be Santa Claus -- I'll be! I'll settle him, the smarty!"

"How, Jo Ann? I don't see how you can. It's Nell's house, and her party, and I don't see what you can do if she wants her own brother to be Santa Claus."

"I don't know what yet myself," Jo Ann said, "but I will know. That red-head is getting just too swelled up."

Tommy Bassick had, as a matter of fact, come off rather better in the last few battles of the great Bassick-Jo Ann war, and this was extremely annoying to Jo Ann. For the next few days she went about with her brow in creases, and now and then she pounded on her forehead with her knuckles, trying to jolt some sort of idea loose. But presently she began to smile -- one might almost say grin. She had had a thought. She saw a way to put Tommy Bassick to rout and be Santa Claus herself.

In her plans she was handicapped by not knowing the exact layout of Nell Benwood's house. Her scheme, in its essential feature, was to lock Tommy Bassick in the room where he went to dress as Santa Claus. He would go to that room only a short while before he had to come down the stairs dressed as Santa Claus, and if Jo Ann could be already dressed as a Santa Claus, and could lock him in his room, there would be no time for much. The children would be waiting. With a Santa Claus mask hiding her face no one would know her from Tommy. It would all be over before Tommy could get out of his room.

Nell Bassick had been married in June to Lieutenant Benwood of the Navy, and her new home was in a seaport town, and Jo Ann had not yet seen Nell's house. But Jo Ann's mother had visited Nell, and Jo Ann was sure that when she and Wicky went home for the Christmas holidays her mother could tell her the arrangement of the rooms.

So Jo Ann did a strange thing. No one but Jo Ann would have done it; anyone else planning to lock a rival in his room would have kept the plan a deep secret, but Jo Ann began her campaign by doing as many generals did in the olden days. She issued a sort of proclamation. She telegraphed these words to Nell Benwood: "I am sorry for Tommy; I am going to be your Santa Claus." She giggled as she wrote that, and she felt a sense of real triumph.

When she had sent this telegram, Jo Ann began cutting and sewing bright red outing flannel, stitching white cotton wool on it for fur, for Santa Claus must have his red coat and breeches and cap.

"It seems to me you are taking forever and a day to make that Santa suit, Jo Ann," Wicky complained, for ice hockey was the game at Wilmot School just then and Jo Ann was cutting most of the games and was sadly missed.

Woman's work this sewing thing. I'm never any good at woman's work.

"Woman's work, this sewing thing," Jo Ann said, grinning. "Maybe that's why I'm slow; maybe it isn't. But don't you worry, Wicky. All will be ready for the merry Christmas season."

The Christmas vacation at Wilmot School began the fourteenth of December, but Jo Ann and Wicky were not to go to Nell Benwood's until the twenty-fourth, so they went to Jo Ann's for ten days. Almost the first question Jo Ann asked when she saw her mother was what Nell's house was like.

"A dear little house," Jo Ann's mother said.

"It would be," Jo Ann said. "Nell would have a nice house. What is it like inside? How is it arranged -- the rooms, I mean."

Jo Ann's mother began to describe the house.

"It is a charming little street, all new houses and all alike except for the exteriors. The houses stand on a terrace. When you enter --"

But Jo Ann ran for a pencil and paper.

"Show me, Mother," she said. "Where is the living room, and the dining room? What's this -- oh a door! And upstairs?"

It was a smallish house and Jo Ann soon had its exact layout. She kept the paper on which her mother had drawn the crude plan, and she studied it carefully. Nell's father and mother were to drive up the day before Christmas, and they offered to take Jo Ann and Wicky but said it might be a little crowded in the car because Tommy was taking his chum Ted Spence with him. Jo Ann politely declined the ride.

'If you do turn out to be Santa Claus, Jo Ann,' Nell said, 'remember every present will carry a name.'

"Not with Tommy -- no, thanks!" she said. "We'll go by train. Automobiles do break down. This Santa Claus is going to be there."

"But, Jo Ann," Wicky said. "It'll spoil everything, Ted Spence's going, won't it? We can't handle two of them, can we?"

"The more the merrier," Jo Ann laughed. "You just wait, Wicky. This is going to be a scream."

From the crude plan of Nell's house Jo Ann decided what room she and Wicky would probably be given. Nell and her husband would, of course, keep their own room. Mr. and Mrs. Bassick would undoubtedly have the other front room upstairs. That left two other bedrooms, opposite each other, at the rear of the floor. Tommy and Ted would have one and Jo Ann and Wicky the other -- it did not matter to Jo Ann which.

"Mother," Jo Ann asked, "did Nell say anything about Santa Claus?"

"Yes, she did, Jo Ann. I did think your telegram was rather rude, but Nell seemed to like it. She said something lively was to be expected when you were on hand."

"Did she say anything else, Mother?"

"Only that she told Tommy you were threatening his job as Santa Claus, and she guessed the Bassicks could have things their way if they stuck together."

"They're going to help Tommy, of course," Jo Ann said scornfully. "He wouldn't last a minute if the whole family didn't help him."

"I hope you won't do anything too strenuous, Jo Ann."

"Do I ever, Mother?" Jo Ann asked.

"Yes, you usually do, Jo Ann," her mother said. "Remember it is a rented house and don't do any more damage than you can help."

The run by train to Nell's town was only an hour or so, and it was not until they were on the train Jo Ann and Wicky dressed as Santa Claus Tommy dressed as Santa Claus that Jo Ann explained to Wicky her complete plan of campaign. Wicky threw her arms around Jo Ann and hugged her.

"Jo Ann, you're a wonder!" she cried. "You are certainly the greatest that ever lived! Whoever would have thought of two Santa Clauses?"

"There'll be three, with Tommy," said Jo Ann modestly. "It was the only plan I could think of, to get the best of that red-headed nuisance. We have to use brains in this day and age, Wicky."

"And muscle," Wicky laughed. "And I ragged you about how long it was taking you to make a Santa suit, when you were making two of them! Have you got two Santa masks?"

"Two everything," Jo Ann said. "One for you and one for me. Now, you're sure you understand everything? Nothing happens until after dinner. Then Tommy and Ted will go upstairs to put Tommy in his Santa suit, and we hustle and get into our Santa suits, and you, Wicky -- not I -- go out of our room into the hall. So Tommy and Ted, because I warned Tommy I was going to be the Santa Claus, will be laying for me. With your Santa mask on they'll think you are me, and they'll rush you into their room. And then I'll come out of my room and while you are all three in Tommy's room, I'll lock you all in there -- and down I go, the only Santa Claus at Nell's house. Is that suave, Wicky -- I ask you!"

"And if I have to fight, I'll fight," said Wicky grimly. "With, of course," she added, "the proper Christmas spirit, and singing a carol for a battle song. Do you know a good scrappy carol, Jo Ann?"

"Most of the carols are peaceful," Jo Ann said, "but Onward Christian Soldiers might do."

There had been enough snowfall to make a white Christmas, and white flakes were floating down when the train stopped at the port town, and Lieutenant Benwood in his small automobile hailed the girls gaily.

"Hurrah! Here comes Santa Claus!" he laughed. "Welcome to our little city. Tommy's not here yet, but look out for him when he does get here. Me, too. Nell, too. Remember that the Bassicks hang together. 'All for one and one for all' -- that's our motto, Jo Ann. Got Tommy's present with you?"

"Wicky!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "I forgot a present for Tommy!"

"A string of beads would be nice," said Lieutenant Benwood. "Or a lemon -- sour lemons make nice presents. We can stop at a shop. A fruit store?"

"No, stop here," Jo Ann said, and the car stopped before a small department store. "I'm going to give Tommy Bassick the jolt of his young life, Wicky. He'll be surprised. I'll make him feel cheaper than a big glass of sour lemonade."

She made her purchases -- she bought a present for Ted Spence, too -- and Lieutenant Benwood grinned as the girls came out of the store. He knew they were up to some sort of jest, but Jo Ann only smiled.

The car, a few blocks farther on, turned off the main street into the residence district, and into a street with neat small houses such as Jo Ann's mother had described. Into the narrow driveway of one of these the lieutenant turned his car and stopped it, and tooted his horn. Jo Ann saw the Bassick's car ahead of them in the driveway, and in answer to the horn, Nell and Tommy and Ted and Mr. and Mrs. Bassick came out onto the porch. It was evident that the Bassicks had just arrived, for Mrs. Bassick still wore her hat. Mr. Bassick was laughing. Tommy ran down to open the car door and he reached for Jo Ann's suitcase.

"No, you don't!" she cried. "Hands off!"

"Santa Claus doesn't want to part from his clothes, Jo Ann -- is that it?" Nell laughed. "You're right -- never trust a Bassick. We're all Bassicks here, and the Bassicks stick together."

"Hang together Nell," the lieutenant laughed. "Get our war cry right, honey. Hurry in, girls, it's chilly for Nell without her coat."

"It's a lovely house," Wicky said. "It's a darling street. I love your house."

"Yes, all these houses are nice," Nell said.

It was indeed a charming street -- a row of quaint little houses all much alike, but when Jo Ann and Wicky went inside they did think Nell had not done much in the way of Christmas decoration. A few wreaths were in the windows and strings of green and red crepe paper were stretched here and there. The dining room was behind the living room and opened into it as if it were all one room.

"Come right down, girls," Nell said, when she had shown them their room. "Edgar wants to take you all skating this afternoon, but you'll have to be back early, because we must trim the tree before dinner."

And when Jo Ann asked her she told them Tommy and Ted were having the room opposite.

"Could it be better?" Jo Ann cried, hugging Wicky when they were alone. "Was anything ever more perfect? And did you notice that Tommy's key is on the outside of his door? I'll get it now," and she tiptoed into the hall and took Tommy's key from the lock. "When we come up after dinner, Wicky," she whispered, "and we are in our Santa suits, you'll step out to here. Then Tommy and Ted will grab you and hustle you into their room. And I'll lock you all in. It's perfect!"

"Somehow I don't like their all being so cheerful about it," Wicky said.

"Fudge!" Jo Ann exclaimed.

The skating was good and Jo Ann beat Tommy at two races, while Ted and Wicky watched.

The skating was good and Jo Ann beat Tommy in two races, and at five they all returned to the house with cheeks glowing. Edgar was in gay spirits, singing navy songs, dancing a hornpipe and carrying on generally until Nell reminded him of the Christmas tree. Then he went out and brought it in from the garage and stood it at the far end of the dining room, and everybody set to work and trimmed it. When it was finished, it looked beautiful, in spite of the fact that it was a smaller tree than Jo Ann had really expected.

The dinner went off very well. It was hurried but everyone was merry. Tommy and Ted ragged Jo Ann and Wicky a good deal, but Jo Ann was able to give them as good as they sent. Nell was the demure hostess, but Lieutenant Benwood and Mr. Bassick laughed a great deal.

"I think Santa Claus had better go and get ready now," Nell said. "The children will be arriving for their party soon, and the first thing will be Santa Claus."

Tommy and Ted went out, closing the heavy curtain of the hall door, and Jo Ann looked at Wicky meaningly.

"I think we will go up and get ready, too, Nell," Jo Ann said. "I'm going to be Santa Claus, you know."

"Run along," Nell smiled, "but beware of the Bassicks," and Jo Ann and Wicky hurried upstairs and into their room, which Jo Ann locked on the inside.

"Now, what did she mean by that?" Wicky asked.

"Nothing. Just talk," Jo Ann said. She drew down the shades and the two began throwing off their dresses and getting into the Santa garments. As soon as they were partly clothed Jo Ann unlocked the door and opened it. "Put on your mask; be ready to go out and be captured," she said to Wicky. "Leave your boots to the last -- they don't matter. Listen!"

"What do you hear?"

"Didn't you hear somebody saying 'Easy! Keep it steady!' downstairs just then?"

"No. Jo Ann, those boys aren't making much noise, are they?"

"Wait! I'm going to listen at their door!" Jo Ann said, and she slipped quietly into the hall.

"Jo Ann!" Wicky called almost immediately. "Come here, quick!"

She had gone to the closet to put her dress on a hanger.

"What is it?" Jo Ann asked, returning to the room.

"This is funny, Jo Ann. This hanger has 'M. S.' embroidered on it. All these hangers have. Those weren't Nell's initials."

"Wicky, those boys aren't in that room," Jo Ann said. "If they are, they're keeping quieter than I ever knew them to. Listen!"

Wicky had picked up a silver tray from the dresser. The initials engraved on it were "M. S." Under the tray the dresser scarf was embroidered "M. S."

"Listen!" Jo Ann repeated.

"What do you hear?" Wicky said.

"That's it -- I don't hear anything. Wicky, the lights downstairs are all out! I don't believe there is anybody down -- Wicky, there'd be children coming by this time! Wicky -- everybody's gone!"

"Jo Ann! This isn't the house; this isn't Nell's house! Those boys didn't come upstairs. They went out! We're all alone!" The girls ran down the stairs and found the switch and turned on the lights. The tree was gone! That was what Jo Ann had heard being carried out through the French windows. There was no one in the house but themselves. Jo Ann tried the front door and found it locked. She turned to the telephone.

"Hello! Hello, Central!" she called. "Who are we? I mean we're two girls and we're in the wrong house. Whose house are we telephoning from?"

"What is this, a joke?" Central's voice answered. "You're calling from 6759 Benton. That's Norman Spence's number -- 242 Shady Lawn Street."

"Yes? Oh, thank you!" Jo Ann replied. "And can you tell me where Lieutenant Edgar Benwood's house is?"

"Yes; one minute, please," Central replied and, after a slight delay: "Edgar Benwood's address is 246 Shady Lawn Street. That should be two doors from where you are, I think," and then, "Wait one moment -- someone is calling your number."

"Hello!" said a voice over the 'phone wire, and Jo Ann recognized it as Lieutenant Benwood's.

"It's Edgar Benwood," Jo Ann said.

"Hello, Jo Ann!" Lieutenant Benwood called. "Hello! Are you there?"

"Yes," said Jo Ann coldly.

"Sorry we had to leave you so suddenly," Edgar laughed. "Had to have a Bassick Santa Claus, you see. You know -- 'the Bassicks hang together.' Now, listen, Jo Ann -- come right over, you and Wicky, will you? Our house is the second house. We're having a grand party -- can you hear the kids yelling? That's because Santa Claus Tommy is just coming down."

"Spence!" Wicky was saying. "This must be Ted Spence's brother's house. They must have gone somewhere for Christmas and let Nell use their house to fool you, Jo Ann!"

"Are you coming right over?" Edgar asked through the 'phone.

"We're not coming over," Jo Ann said.

"Oh, now, Jo Ann!" pleaded Lieutenant Benwood. "Don't get sore."

"We're not coming over," Jo Ann repeated. "We are having our Christmas here. We -- we're just getting ready to give out the presents. I am Santa Claus, thank you. So don't bother about us. She hung up and turned to Wicky. "Go up and get the presents we brought, Wicky," she said. "This is the house they brought us to, and this is the house I'm going to be Santa Claus in."

The telephone bell was ringing again, insistently, but Jo Ann paid no attention to it, and presently it stopped. Wicky was coming downstairs with the armful of presents they had brought for Nell and Edgar and each other, and what Jo Ann had bought for Tommy and Ted, when there came a knocking on the front door, and Jo Ann admitted Lieutenant Benwood. He was without a hat, and he tried to be jovial, but Jo Ann could see he was worried, too. He told Jo Ann she must go over to the other house.

"I'm having my Christmas here, thank you," Jo Ann said. "I've got Tommy's present here, and I'm Santa Claus, and I couldn't think of going to your house until I gave Tommy his present here. Never! Not ever again!"

"I'll bring Tommy over," Edgar said. "Nell feels just awful --"

"And there should be a tree to take the presents off of," Jo Ann said.

"We'll bring the tree back," said Edgar promptly. "And --"

"Some of the children? And Ted? And Nell?" Jo Ann demanded.

"Yes, the whole bunch. You'll call it square then, Jo Ann? You'll not be mad at us forever?"

"Not when I've been your Santa Claus," Jo Ann said.

The children thought it was great fun -- a party that walked around from one house to another -- and Nell begged Jo Ann's pardon and said it had all been meant as a joke, and Mr. Bassick and Edgar brought the tree. There were just two gifts left on it, and when the tree had been put in its first location, Jo Ann, her Santa mask on her face, took one from the tree.

"This is for me," she said, and she opened it, "and this is for you, Wicky." They were bright yellow lemons. Tommy Bassick grinned, but none too heartily. The joke did not seem to be as clever as he had thought it would be, and Jo Ann handed her lemon to Wicky to hold, and proceeded to give presents to Nell and Edgar and to Wicky. The last she had to give were those for Tommy Bassick and Ted.

"Thomas Bassick and Theodore Spence!" Jo Ann called, and Tommy and Ted, grinning sheepishly, went to her and took their presents from Jo Ann's hands.

"Open them! Open them!" Edgar Benwood cried, and the two boys even more sheepishly opened the parcels. They knew Jo Ann would have some good joke on them. When the papers were removed Tom and Ted stared at their presents and their faces grew red. What Jo Ann had given them were pairs of the handsomest, softest sport stockings they had ever seen, stockings that would delight any boy. And they had given Jo Ann a lemon!

"Aw, gosh! Aw, say, Jo Ann!" Tommy said, for he did not know what else to say. "Say! Gosh!"

"Atta girl, Jo Ann!" Lieutenant Ben-wood exclaimed. "Atta good sport! Atta Santa Claus!"

Late that night in their bed in Nell's own house, Wicky said, "Well, you won, anyway, Jo Ann."

"Yes," Jo Ann said with a sigh of satisfaction. "I won, I guess. Tommy was Santa Claus at the start -- but I was Santa Claus from then on."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:18am USA Central
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