The Barn That Blossomed by Unknown

[Illustration]

"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.

"But Gerry—"

"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>I believe I've hit on the very thing to do</i>."]

"Yes'm," said Mother Brace meekly, "but where would they get the three beds?"

"Why, I suppose they sleep on something now, though probably it wouldn't fit our clean barn; that's a fact."

For a moment Gerry looked crestfallen. Then she brightened again.

"Well, I can think that out, too, seeing I thought of the barn. The question is, mother, would you be willing to have them come!"

There was silence on the porch for a few minutes while Mother Brace watched the sunset over beyond the hills.

"It looks like the gates of the celestial city," she said at last, "where there are homes for everybody. Yes, Gerry, dear, I'd be willing to have them come, if there's anyway of fixing it."

Gerry squeezed the work-roughened hand that had slipped into hers.

"You blessed! Of course, I knew you would. Mother, I'm going to Aunt Serinda about the beds."

"Your Aunt Serinda?" Mother Brace gasped again. "Why, Gerry!"

"Yes'm," repeated Gerry. "I'm going to Aunt Serinda. There is no sense in having a garret full of old furniture when there's an empty barn just hungry for it. If she hasn't enough, I'll go to Mrs. Squires. I'll take up a collection, mother, a missionary collection."

"I'm afraid your Aunt Serinda will think—" began Mother Brace faintly.

"Yes, I know she will think," Gerry agreed. "She will say, 'How perfectly ridiculous!' But before I get through she will give me a bed and very likely a blanket. I shall start out to-morrow morning and see what I can do."

True to her word, the sun had not dried the dew from the grass that was rapidly growing green under its spring warmth before Gerry was on her way up the neat box-bordered walk at Aunt Serinda's.

"The Jimsons!" sputtered that good woman when Gerry began to dilate upon their forlorn condition. "Jimson weeds I call 'em. Of all the shiftless, good-for-nothing lots! They can't be much worse off now old Jim's gone."

"No, ma'am," said Gerry; "they don't need to be. They are going to be better off, Aunt Serinda. They're coming to live in our barn. You know we never use it, and it's a specially tight barn, with more windows than most."

Aunt Serinda held up her hands in horror.

"In—your—barn? How perfectly ridiculous! Why, they'll bring microbes enough to poison you all. And they'll run over everything."

"I hope so," said Gerry promptly. "Little Jimson-weeds have to run somewhere. It might better be over our good clean grass than down there in the centre where there's mischief waiting to be done every minute. They won't bring any microbes, though, because I mean to have them burn up all their old things before they come, I'm taking up a collection this morning to furnish the barn. You are going to give me a bed and some other things out of the attic, aren't you, auntie?"

"Well, of all things!" Aunt Serinda stood with her hands on her hips, and stared at Gerry. "If you aren't the beat of any girl I ever saw! I suppose you'd like to have me take down my kitchen stove for 'em, and send along the spring rocker, from the parlor, besides."

Gerry laughed cheerily.

"Oh, no, auntie, only just the things up in the attic that you can spare as well as not. You know you'd rather someone would have the use of them than to have them wasted up there. Couldn't we go up now and see? I ought to hurry a little. I may have to go to lots of places before I get enough."

Aunt Serinda turned, and led the way up stairs without a word.

"There is a bed," she admitted when they stood under the peaked roof. "I took it down from the spare room when Mary Ellen bought the brass one to sleep in when she comes. The mattress wouldn't fit any other; so I suppose it might as well go along. There's some patchwork quilts in that chest, too, that Mary Ellen never liked. I guess you could have some of those."

It was very exciting, picking out and setting aside. Just why Aunt Serinda, with all her abundance, had treasured so many old things was a question. Probably it was because few people knew the keys to her heart as Gerry did, and so no one had ever asked her for them. And it was not Aunt Serinda's nature to give without asking.

[Illustration: "<i>It was very exciting, picking out and setting aside</i>."]

Once started, however, it seemed to be easy enough.

"Those chairs over there," she said finally, dusting her hands upon her apron when the collection had grown to a very respectable size, "they don't need much mending; I guess James can do it to-night. How are you going to get all this stuff over to the barn?"

"I don't know." Gerry paused aghast. "I never once thought of that. I'll find a way, though, or make it."

"Yes, I expect you would," said Aunt Serinda, smiling grimly; "but this time you needn't. I'll have James hitch up the long wagon and take 'em over when you're ready, and he could pick up anything else you collect, on the way."

Gerry stood for a minute with shining eyes, irresolute. Then she flew at Aunt Serinda, and, throwing both arms around that astonished person's neck, planted a warm kiss on the nearest cheek.

"Auntie, you're a—a winter apple! Just as crisp and reliable and sweet inside! I like you."

"Mercy me!" said Aunt Serinda, quite abashed. "Mercy me!"

The quarter of a mile down the road to Mrs. Squires' house seemed to slide from under Gerry's feet. Mrs. Squires was round and rosy and sympathetic.

"Why, yes, my dear, of course, I'll help. I'm through cleaning, and there are some things I've been wondering what to do with. I haven't any beds, but there is a rusty cook-stove in the cellar that I'll be only too glad to have you take. I should think it could be cleaned up and do very well."

"Oh, yes, thank you," said Gerry eagerly; "I can black it and all that. And Aunt Serinda's James will come for it."

There were several additions to the cook-stove before Gerry hurried on to Judge Beaker's, following the suggestion that the Beaker girls had just refurnished their bedroom.

It was close after house-cleaning time, and rummage sales had not yet found their way into East Greenfield; so it was not very wonderful that by noon Gerry really had enough things promised her to furnish the barn with a comfort that would seem luxury to the young Jimsons and their mother.

It must be confessed that the finishing touch for Gerry was given when she leaned on the window-sill to tell the story to little lame Ruthie West, not because she expected anything there, but because she was so happy that she could not help stopping to share it with some one. Ruthie laughed over the yellow soap feelingly offered by Mr. Evans, and cried over the cook-stove, and when it was all told exclaimed earnestly:—

"Oh, Gerry, I must do something; I just must! I haven't any things, even if you needed them; but you come in, please, and get my Japanese box out of the bureau drawer. It's got my gold piece in it. It's truly mine, Gerry; Mr. Graves gave it to me last Christmas, and I haven't been able to think of anything nice enough to do with it. Now I know. You take it, Gerry, and buy some pretty stuff to make some frilly things, and some curtains, maybe—if there's enough. They'll love to have pretty things; I know they will. And, Gerry, maybe it will help them to be good, those little Jimson-weeds," quoting Aunt Serinda softly.

Tears rolled down Gerry's cheeks onto the shining piece of gold in Ruthie's hand.

"You—darling!" she whispered, and could not say anything more.

Mother Brace's potatoes grew quite cold while she listened to Gerry's excited reports, and grew as much excited herself in the hearing.

"I'll begin to sweep the barn this afternoon," she declared, hustling the dishes off the table. "I don't want that poor Jimson soul to wait a minute longer than she must to have it all."

The dust was flying in clouds from the open barndoors when the "poor Jimson soul" herself came dragging up the path with the baby in her arms and a dingy black dress, manifestly borrowed, trailing forlornly behind her.

"Oh, my!" thought Gerry as she watched her coming. "I never remembered the clothes. They'll have to have them. I wonder—

"Come right in, Mrs. Jimson," she interrupted herself; "come and sit down here. You must be tired with such a long walk."

"I ain't no more tired than I always am," Mrs. Jimson answered drearily, dropping into the rocker Gerry pushed forward. "I ain't never been rested, and I don't never expect to be. I've come to see if you've got anything I can do to earn some money. Folks has been good, and we've had enough to eat so far; but it stands to reason I've got to do something myself."

"Yes," Gerry nodded gravely, "and the children will have to help. Maybe Tad can do some of the gardening ol—Mr. Jimson used to do, and Jennie's big enough to take care of the little ones and help do the housework so you can go out part of the time."

"I guess all the housework won't hurt her," sighed Mrs. Jimson, brushing away a slow tear that was stealing down her cheek. But at the same moment a ray of hope began to steal into her heart with Gerry's brisk planning.

"I'd be willing to do anything," she went on more energetically. "I ain't lazy, though folks may think so; but I've got plum discouraged."

"And now you are going to take heart o' grace and begin again," declared Mother Brace, coming in with her broom over her shoulder in time to hear the last words. "I suppose, then, you're willing to come and scrub my barn floors for me to-morrow morning. They won't be very hard, but I can't get down so long on account of my knee. I can pay you fifty cents."

"Oh, I'll come." Mrs. Jimson straightened up so eagerly that she nearly dropped the baby. "And I'll get 'em clean, too. I know how if I don't look it."

Telegraphic signs passed between Mother Brace and Gerry by which it was decided to say nothing about the moving at present. Nevertheless Mrs. Jimson went home much lighter of heart and foot than when she came, though she carried several extra pounds in the way of vegetables and fresh bread.

Hardly was she out of sight when Mrs. Thomas Benton, president of the Ladies' Aid Society, rapped at the Braces' front door.

"You see," she told Gerry when she had recovered her breath, being somewhat portly for so steep a hill, "we've heard about your barn plan, and we thought we'd better have a finger in the pie. So we decided that instead of packing a barrel for the heathen just now we will dress up the Jimson's, so as to have them match better with their new home. Oh, we shall do the heathen before long, too; only we thought maybe this was an 'ought to have done and not leave the other undone.'"

Bright and early next morning Mrs. Jimson was on her knees scrubbing the barn floors, little dreaming that she was helping to lay the foundation for her own future happiness.

She could not have been more thorough, had she known, much to Mother Brace's satisfaction.

"There's good stuff in her," was the verdict. "She may be a weed, but she'll pay for cultivating."

It was nearly a week before the barn was ready, a week so busy that Gerry's bones ached when she stretched them in bed each night, but so happy that she cared not at all for the aches. Aunt Serinda's James toiled up and down the hill with the long wagon loaded more than once; Ruthie's loving fingers flew upon the ruffles and frills; Gerry and her mother set things straight, nailing and tacking diligently; and gradually the barn became transformed.

"It's blossomed like the rose!" Gerry announced joyously. "It isn't a barn any longer; it's a cottage. Oh, mother, it's better than a cottage; it's a home."

Oh, it was very plain and simple; to some it might even have seemed bare, in spite of Ruthie's pretty things. But to Gerry, with the tumble-down house fresh in her memory, it was all that could be desired.

[Illustration: "<i>Mrs. Jimson was on her knees scrubbing the barn
floor</i>."]

The morning it was all ready at last, in spotless order, with the bright sunshine and the soft spring breezes pouring in at the open windows, Gerry ran down the hill to the Centre.

The little Jimsons were not playing in the mud outside the tumble-down house as usual. Mrs. Jimson met Gerry at the door in a trim dark calico dress that made a different woman of her. Seated in a beaming circle within were the five children, each clad from top to toe in clean, fresh garments, from Tad down to the baby, who was crowing in Jennie's arms, radiant in a gay pink gingham.

"Aren't we splendid, Miss Gerry?" cried the little girl, pushing a glowing face out from behind the baby's head. "Ma's just got us dressed up, and we're going to have a bonfire of the old ones."

"It was the Ladies' Aid, Miss Gerry," supplemented Mrs. Jimson almost as excitedly. "They've just gone, Mrs. Benton has, and they brought us all these and more. Did you ever see anything like it? Of course, I'm going to help clean the church to help make up," she added with a new womanly dignity that was very becoming; "but I couldn't never pay for the kindness, never!"

"It's beautiful," said Gerry, "beautiful! I couldn't tell how glad I am. I'm so glad, too, that you've got them on, for mother wants you to come up to the house a few minutes, all of you. It's something very important."

Seizing Tommy, the two-year-old, by the hand, she hurried off ahead of them, fearing she could not keep her secret if she delayed another instant. Up the hill and across the wide grassy yard she led them, straight to where Mother Brace stood in the barn doorway.

"I've brought them," she said, and stopped, overwhelmed by this crowning moment.

[Illustration: "<i>We want to show you our new house</i>."]

"We want you to see our new house we've fixed up," Mother Brace explained, coming to the rescue. "Come in, all of you."

Considerably bewildered, Mrs. Jimson obeyed, shooing the children before her like a flock of chickens. It was not usual for her to be called upon for opinion or approval; and she made the most of it, exclaiming with admiration and delight as they made the rounds of the tiny bedrooms, and stood once more in the long, shining kitchen with its neatly blackened stove and its row of polished tin pans.

"It couldn't be no completer, no ways," she pronounced judgment. "Nor no prettier."

Then Gerry found her voice, and the words came tumbling out in joyful haste.

"It's all for you, Mrs. Jimson. You're to come here this very day, and this is to be your home. You are to sleep in the bedrooms, and cook in the kitchen, and—"

"But I don't understand," faltered Mrs. Jimson, her bewilderment deepening with every second. "Where did it come from? Whose is it? How—"

"It came from everybody," laughed Gerry tremulously. "Lots of people helped. And it's yours, I tell you, to live in as long as you want to, you and the children. Don't you see, dear?"

Little Mrs. Jimson dropped down suddenly in the middle of the shining floor.

"Oh, my land! my land!" she sobbed, rocking to and fro. "I never knew there was such folks in the world. I feel just as if I'd got into one o' the many mansions!"

Mother Brace patted the bent shoulders gently.

"You have," she said, her voice catching, "into one He's been preparing for you. Only instead of angels He used a lot of warm, loving human hands to do it with."