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"Jo Ann's Haunted House" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
Jo Ann's Haunted House
by Ellis Parker Butler

One of the rules of Camp Minnedawa was short and positive. It said "No animals." Another, almost equally short, and no less positive, said "No girl may leave camp grounds without permission." That was why Jo Ann was flat on her stomach edging herself under the wire fence.

"It's lucky I found this place, Wicky," she said as she edged herself along another inch or two. "Unhook my skirt from the barbwire, Wicky. It'll come handy a lot of times."

"Your skirt?" Wicky said.

"This place to go through," Jo Ann said. "Bumpy is getting so stuffy she never lets anybody leave the camp."

"Well, of course," Wicky reminded her, "raiding Mr. Burton's apple orchard every day was a little often, Jo Ann."

"Now I'll hold up the wire and you crawl under," Jo Ann said. "Keep your back down and you won't get caught on the barbs. It wasn't raiding, Wicky; he said I could have apples as often as I wanted to. 'If you don't get some those boys from Camp Mondega will get them all,' he said. Mr. Burton is a friend of mine; that's where we are going now."

"For apples? We've got almost a bushel under our tent floor now."

Wicky wiggled under the fence and got to her feet. It was a splendid place to go under a fence, underbrush hiding the place on both sides.

"No, not apples," Jo Ann said. "We've got enough apples; we're going to get a mascot for this camp."

"We've got one," said Wicky, meaning the totem pole the camp called "Princess Minnedawa."

"Puh! That old wooden thing!" Jo Ann exclaimed scornfully. "I mean a real mascot, Wicky; I mean a live one. The last time I was out I saw the dearest mascot. Perfectly suave! I've got three dollars --"

"Is it a kitten?" asked Wicky all eagerness, now.

"You wait and you'll see. Come on; scoot across the lane quick. A kitten? Who'd give three dollars for a kitten? Get over here Wicky. Get over this way. Watch me."

They climbed the stone wall into Mr. Burton's farm and Jo Ann led the way, stooping low, dodging from tree to tree.

"But animals are against the rule, Jo Ann," Wicky said, panting from her run after Jo Ann.

"Well, what do you suppose I'd want an animal for if everybody in camp could have one?" Jo Ann asked. "This way; come around this barn. Now, here; look in here! Aren't they perfectly darling?"

Wicky looked over the fence.

"Aren't they just too lovely?" she exclaimed. "Oh, Jo Ann! that pink one with the funny little black nose!"

"That's the one I picked out," said Jo Ann proudly. "I'm going to call him Ebenezer. That's short for ebony sneezer, because he has such a cute little black nose. Here, Ebenezer; come here!"

It is probable that Mr. Burton did not know the rule against harboring animals at Camp Minnedawa; if he had known of the rule he would not have sold Jo Ann the pink little pig, but he came out of the barn now, smiling pleasantly.

"Come for your pig, hey?" he asked. "Well, you picked a good pig; that's no runt or ever will be. Three dollars; thank you. Shall I carry it over to the camp for you?"

"Oh! No, thank you!" Jo Ann exclaimed quickly. "We can get it there."

The little pig was heavier than Jo Ann had thought it would be. It was solid pig, but she wrapped her arms around it and hugged it to her, its feet sticking straight out. It squealed with fear or anger or because it did not want to leave the other little pigs, but Jo Ann hurried away with it. With Wicky's help she got it over the loose stone wall and into the lane that lay between Camp Minnedawa and Mr. Burton's farm.

Camp Minnedawa has its own dock on Lake Lomas, and the boys' camp on the other side of Mr. Burton's farm has its own dock, too, but there is an old dock at the foot of the lane. Here Tommy Bassick and his good friend Ted Spence had moored a canoe, meaning to make a raid up the lane to Mr. Burton's orchard and they had just topped the little hillock of the lane when they saw Jo Ann and Wicky scooting across the lane with Ebenezer squealing in Jo Ann's arms. Instantly Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence broke into a run. Here was something worth investigating -- Jo Ann going back to Camp Minnedawa with a pig in her arms! The two boys glided through the underbrush in silent Indian fashion. The little pig was still squealing out its woes and the boys were able to approach near enough to hear what the two girls were saying.

"Did you ever hear anything so noisy in your life?" Jo Ann demanded. "Wicky, we simply can't let the little love yell like this; everybody in camp will hear him. He'll scream just pitifully when we shove him under the fence. I'll tell you! Take off your skirt, Wicky."

"My skirt?"

"Yes; take it off. It's lucky you wore it today, Wicky. We'll wrap Ebenezer in it. We'll muffle him up in it until we get him to his cunning little home."

Through the underbrush, Tommy and Ted saw Jo Ann wrapping the complaining pig in Wicky's skirt.

"Where are you going to keep him, Jo Ann?" Wicky asked as she stepped out of her skirt and appeared in the blue Minnedawa bloomers.

"I've got the peachiest little nest for him!" Jo Ann said. "You know that crate? I dragged it to that place back of the little spruce trees; nobody ever goes there -- he'll be as safe as safe. We'll let the girls see him, one at a time; it will cost them some of their treats from home. And there's one thing, Wicky -- that redheaded Bassick nuisance and those boys from Camp Mondega will never find this mascot. They won't carry him off the way they do the wooden Princess. They won't know about him."

Tommy Bassick poked Ted Spence with his elbow and they grinned. Through an opening in the underbrush they could see Jo Ann wrapping the complaining pig in Wicky's skirt. They saw Jo Ann wiggle under the fence, saw Wicky hand the mascot pig through to Jo Ann, and saw Wicky follow snake-like under the fence.

"When had we better get it?" Tommy asked as soon as the girls had disappeared, for it would never have occurred to them not to get the pig.

"We could get it tonight," Ted suggested.

"We've got the watermelon gorge over on the point tonight," Tommy objected. "We've got to go to that; we could get it tomorrow night. That's not so very far off!"

'Why -- why -- our pig's gone!' cried Wicky in amazement. 'And my skirt too!'

"It would be letting them have it a good while," Ted Spence said. "The sooner we take it away from them the better lesson it will be for that smarty tomboy of a Jo Ann."

"We could get it now," Tommy Bassick suggested. "They'll put it in that crate they were talking about and go to get it something to eat right away. That's pretty sure, because it will holler if it don't get fed."

"Come on!" agreed Tommy Bassick and he threw himself on the ground and wiggled under the fence with Ted Spence following him. Five minutes later they wiggled back again with the pig mascot Ebenezer still wrapped in Wicky's skirt.

"Why -- why -- he's gone!" cried Wicky in amazement when the two girls returned a few minutes later with huge hunks of cake for Ebenezer. "Jo Ann, my skirt's gone, too!"

"Well," said Jo Ann testily, "you've got another skirt, haven't you? I guess we'll find your skirt -- a pig couldn't go through these bushes very far without losing a skirt. Oh, well!" she added with resignation; "I guess he'd just go back to Mr. Burton's; dogs always go home and cats always go home, and I suppose pigs do, too."

But the search through the underbrush inside and outside the fence discovered neither Wicky's skirt nor the little pink pig. Jo Ann and Wicky went back to Mr. Burton's but he was not able to give them much hope.

'No young ladies,' said Mr. Burton, 'that pig did not come back. Pigs don't ever come back. Pigs don't appreciate their home.'

"No, young ladies," he said, "that pig did not come back and if it does come back I'll be the most surprised man in this county. I never in my life knew a pig to come back; pigs don't come back. Pigs seem just to hate their homes; they don't appreciate anything; all a pig wants is to get away from home and stay away from home. That pig is going to wander around in the woods and root up acorns, and the only way you'll ever get him is to hunt for him -- and then you'll be lucky if you can catch him."

For a day or so, when they could find time, Jo Ann and Wicky hunted for Ebenezer but they found no trace of either Ebenezer or of Wicky's skirt, and they finally decided that Ebenezer was a thoroughly gone pig. But Jo Ann was not one to mourn long. She hated to think of the good three dollars she had paid for the pig, but something presently took her mind off the pig entirely.

On one corner of Mr. Burton's farm, nearer Camp Mondega than it was to Camp Minnedawa, was an old house that had been the Burton farmhouse before the new one was built. It was a small two-story house, paintless and with broken windows and a tumbledown porch. The brick chimneys had toppled down and the yard was high with weeds and uncut grass. The house stood back from the road in a group of gloomy pine trees that sighed sadly when the wind blew through them, and the house was known as the Haunted House. Every neighborhood has a haunted house, because all a house has to be to be a haunted house is tumbledown or vacant and paintless. The imagination of the young folks supplies the ghosts -- or whatever is supposed to make a house a haunted house. The old house on the Burton farm was a mighty good specimen and Jo Ann had wondered quite a while how she could make use of the old house to add to the excitement of life. She hated to have the days get dull and tiresome and not many days were when Jo Ann was around.

"I'll tell you what would be fun," Jo Ann said to Wicky. "It would be fun to get Bumpy to let some of us -- twenty maybe -- spend a night in the Haunted House."

"You said it wasn't haunted really, Jo Ann." Wicky objected.

"Well, it's not," Jo Ann admitted. "No houses are haunted -- not really -- and that old thing is just a house Mr. Burton moved out of because he built himself a better one, but I guess we can haunt it enough to suit the silly kids in this camp. There's a peachy big fireplace in the big room, Wicky, and Bumpy would let us go there to have a marshmallow roast and camp there for fun one night. She'd let us if Coopy went along."

"A marshmallow roast would be just as much fun anywhere else," Wicky said.

"No, it wouldn't," Jo Ann said. "Not for you and me, Wicky. Because we'd be the ghost-makers. We'd go up there the night before and fix some ghosts. With sheets. I know how we can do it -- have the sheets down behind that place that shuts off the stairs that go down cellar, and have strings from them up over something and then out of the window. I'd be outside to pull the strings to make the ghosts rise up, and you could sneak upstairs and make the shutters slam, and groan. It would scare the kids out of their wits, Wicky."

"Miss Cooper wouldn't let them get scared," Wicky said. "She'd tell them it was nonsense."

"They'd be scared until she told them," Jo Ann said wisely. "Groans, and two white things 'There would be groans, and two white things rising up in the air out of the windows of the Haunted House,' explained Jo Ann. rising up in the air. She wouldn't have time to tell them it was nonsense; they'd be out of there and belting it back to the camp before she'd have time to. Anyway," she added hopefully, "it's worth trying. You never know how things turn out until you try. We'll try it out anyway, Wicky."

To start matters, Jo Ann and Wicky told Sybella Merwin to ask Miss Cooper to ask Miss Bumpus if some of the girls could have a marshmallow roast and camp for the night in Mr. Burton's old house. Jo Ann thought it was better that way. It was better not to say "haunted house" and it was better not to mention Jo Ann. Miss Bumpus was inclined to say "No!" very positively to anything Jo Ann planned. She sometimes said that if she had ten girls like Jo Ann she would abandon Camp Minnedawa or go mad.

Miss Cooper, young and full of fun as she was, was a favorite of Miss Bumpus however, and as Miss Cooper thought it would be fun for the girls, Miss Bumpus gave her consent to the marshmallow roast and the night in the old house, and the moment Jo Ann heard that permission had been given she began her preparations. Miss Bumpus said 'No!' These consisted of walking up to any group of the girls and saving "Are you going on the marshmallow roast? Did you hear the story of the headless ghosts?"

No one, unless Jo Ann had just told it to her, had heard the story of the headless ghosts, of course because Jo Ann had just made it up, but she would whisper it to them.

"I don't suppose you'll care," she would say, "because nobody believes in ghosts these days, but if you spend a night in the Haunted House maybe you'll see, just at midnight, the headless ghosts. I don't believe a word of it myself, I think it is just a made up story, but if you want me to I'll tell you the story of the headless ghosts. Sit down and I'll tell it to you. It's a thrilling story."

Of course, they all listened -- who wouldn't?

"And so," Jo Ann would end, "the two men went out on the lake in the boat and fought for the hand of the farmer's daughter with swords, and their swords swung and both their heads were cut off the same instant. One fell into the lake on one side of the boat, and the other head fell into the lake on the other side. They found the two men in the boat, and they buried them, but they never found their heads, and every night at midnight the two ghosts haunt that house, moaning 'Where is my head? I want my head! I want my head!' But, of course," Jo Ann added, "I don't believe a word of it."

The marshmallow roast was to be Friday night and Miss Cooper had chosen the ten girls with care. She did not choose Jo Ann or Wicky. If this roast was a success she meant to have others, but she did not think it wise to let Jo Ann take part in the first one, and Wicky and Jo Ann were chums, so she did not select Wicky. It pleased Jo Ann very well. She and Wicky would get out of camp by the under-the-fence route and be on hand to work the ghosts. It was even better than if they were in the party -- they would not be missed.

Thursday night -- it was the first chance they had -- Jo Ann and Wicky hid two sheets from their cots under their blouses. For days Jo Ann had been gathering odds and ends of string and she had a good ball of it. Unfortunately Miss Bumpus had decreed a campfire for that night, with a singsong and doings, and after that Jo Ann and Wicky had to go to bed. It was a hot night and Miss Bumpus and Miss Venner sat outside their tent talking until after eleven. Not until they knew that Bumpy and Venny were asleep could Jo Ann and Wicky venture out. Then they slipped silently to their hidden exit. The best Jo Ann could supply for light was two ends of candles and these she had in her pocket with the ball of string and some matches. Fortunately, it was a moonlight night and they hurried along the lane and to the main road until they came to the Haunted House.

It looked lonely and weird in the moonlight among the pines. A breeze made the pines sigh sadly.

"It makes me feel creepy," Wicky whispered. "Aren't you afraid, Jo Ann?"

"No, what of?" Jo Ann asked. "Come on, don't be a silly!"

She led the way to the tumbledown porch and the boards creaked as they walked to the open door. Inside the house was almost total blackness except where the moonlight made ghastly white splashes on the floor.

"Wait! I heard something in there," Wicky whispered. "Listen! Jo Ann!"

"There are always noises in old houses," Jo Ann assured Wicky. "Loose boards the wind blows, or leaves that blow about on the floor."

"But -- oh! What was that?" Wicky whimpered. Even Jo Ann paused to listen this time. Her heart stood still.

"That was only an owl -- a screech owl," she said. She stepped inside the open door. "Listen!" she said in a whisper and Wicky grasped her arm.

"What did you hear?" Wicky whispered tremulously. "Jo Ann -- what? I heard it, too. It was a -- it was a --"

Jo Ann stood very still, listening intently. She was sure she had heard a groan, but she was sure she could not have heard a groan. It was some loose lath, she told herself, or the wind.

"Wait," she said. "It will be better if we have a light," and with Wicky still clinging to her arm, she crossed the hall to the large room. She stood a candle-end on the mantel of the fireplace and struck a match and lighted the candle. The candle did not light up the room as much as she had expected; it made the gloom deeper.

"Jo Ann, I'm afraid!" Wicky said. "Listen! What was that?"

One of the windows rattled, a loose pane of glass shattered against its frame. A paper slid across the floor in the draft with a swishing sound like skirts dragging, or the whisper of invisible wings.

"Now, don't be a sill!" Jo Ann exclaimed, making her voice louder than ordinary. "Look, Wicky; there's a hook in the ceiling just where we want it, over the cellar stairs. They've had a hanging lamp there."

Instead of a rail to protect the cellar stairs at the far end of the room there was a waist-high fence-like affair and it was above this the iron hook stuck.

"Give me your sheet," Jo Ann said, pulling her own out of her blouse. She went to the cellar fence and opened the sheets and draped them and looked at the hook. "I'll have to have a stick to poke the string over that hook," she said. "Then we'll run it out over the top of that window. From outside, at midnight, I can pull the string and the ghosts will rise, Wicky! I'll say they'll rise!" She looked around again. "That'll be easy," she said; "Now we've got to have something to drag across the floor upstairs -- we can fasten something to a string and pull it from outside, too. We'll go up and fix that now, Wicky."

Jo Ann lighted her candle-end.

"Jo Ann! Don't let's go up there," Wicky pleaded, but Jo Ann was already on the way to the door and Wicky hurried after her. At the head of the steep narrow stairs was a door, and the door was closed. There was a draft -- a damp chilly draft -- and Jo Ann sheltered her candle with her cupped hand. Half way up the stairs she stopped.

"Listen!" she whispered.

There could be no mistake, she heard feet pattering across the floor over her head, short little steps such as a rat might make, several quick steps and then a pause, and then another rushing of little feet. And then, unmistakably, a moan. Or was it a cry of pain?

And now Jo Ann grasped Wicky's arm.

Wicky! There's something up there! she cried in a whisper, and she heard the pattering feet come toward the door at the top of the stairs. If the door opened she would scream or faint, she knew, and she turned and ran down the stairs. Her candle went out and she turned toward the large room where the other candle still flickered. Jo Ann, for almost the first time in her life, was frightened, and as she turned into the large room she saw something that was impossible. Slowly the two sheets she had left hanging over the fencelet at the far end of the room arose from where she had carelessly thrown them; they reached out with arms; they moved, headless and frightful. Somewhere a shutter banged and Jo Ann screamed.

Her scream was the shrill shriek of terror and horror and Jo Ann grasped Wicky's hand and fled out of the Haunted House and down the road and down the lane, and she did not stop until both she and Wicky tried to get under It was Ebenzer! the fence at the same time and found themselves wedged there. Later, when they were in their cots, Jo Ann spoke.

"Wicky," she whispered. "Asleep? Listen, Wicky, those couldn't have been the headless ghosts, because I made up the story about headless ghosts. And, anyway, they were our sheets. And I know what we heard running about upstairs. It was Ebenezer!"

"Ebenezer?"' questioned Wicky. "Who's Ebenezer?"

"Our pig; our mascot pig," whispered Jo Ann. "I know -- some of those Mondega boys got him. And I'll bet it was that redheaded Bassick nuisance. He'd do that -- he'd steal a pig and then try to scare girls with ghosts."

"We were going to scare girls with ghosts," Wicky reminded Jo Ann.

"Oh, that!" said Jo Ann contemptuously. "That was just for fun; it wasn't to keep a stolen pig."

"Anyway, Jo Ann," Wicky said sleepily, "you were frightened."

For a moment Jo Ann was almost on the point of admitting that she was; then she almost said she was not.

"You go to sleep, Wicky," was what she did say.

'Anyway, Jo Ann,' Wicky answered sleepily, 'those ghosts did frighten you!'



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:37am USA Central
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