“Mother, it was dreadful!” Gerry’s face was all shades of soberness, and her voice had a suspicious quiver in it. “I almost wish I hadn’t seen. The house is fairly tumbling down; they couldn’t have been warm once last winter. And there were five of them, from the baby up to Tad; he’s twelve. Such clothes! Just as if somebody’s rag-bag had fallen apart and begun to walk around. No wonder poor little Mrs. Jimson is nothing but a mite of discouragement. Old Jim wasn’t much of a man; but I suppose he did put a bite inside of the rags once in a while, and she doesn’t know where even that is coming from, now he’s gone. At least, not bites enough to satisfy five unragged appetites.”
Mother Brace’s hands fell upon the potato-pan, knife and all. “Why, Gerry, child, what can we do? Our own bites aren’t any too big; but I suppose we can spare a few vegetables now and again, if any grow without old Jim to hoe them. But we certainly haven’t any houses or extra clothes, unless—maybe I could spare—”
“You can’t spare a single clo’, you blessed mother!” interrupted Gerry. “You’re not to worry at all, but I am going to think and think. I’m sure I shouldn’t be made to feel so bad if there wasn’t something I could do to help.”
With which cheerful logic she sprang up and set about finishing her morning’s work, interrupted to attend the short and simple funeral service said over the body of “old Jim Jimson,” who had given them such help as they could not dispense with in their square bit of garden, and squandered the money that should have provided for the wife and five children whose wretchedness had torn Gerry’s tender heart.
All day she thought and thought; and, as she washed the supper dishes, she was still thinking:—
“Now, Gerry Brace, what are your worldly possessions, anyway? Clothes enough to be a wee bit more than respectable, a house plenty big for two, but certainly not stretchable to take in six more, a little piece of garden, and a nice big piece of grass and trees, and a barn. A barn!” she repeated, clasping her hands in the dish-water with a splash.
“Mother Brace,” she said ten minutes later, when she sat on the top step of the front porch with her arms across her mother’s knee. “I believe I’ve hit on the very thing to do. There are the Jimsons in their tumble-down house, and here are we with a perfectly whole, clean barn without even a cat in it. Don’t you see the possibilities? Presto! Change! There is the tumble-down house empty, and here are the Jimsons living in the perfectly whole barn.” Mother Brace gasped.
“Oh, mother dear, please don’t ‘but.’ You know there are two parts to the barn down-stairs, and up-stairs there are three. They could have a living-room, kitchen, and three bed-rooms.”
[Illustration: “I believe I’ve hit on the very thing to do.”]