Dust rose behind them as Jesse and Rebecca raced their horses back to their father’s farm. Galloping down the hoof-trampled path was the most fun the eldest Johnson siblings had seen since their mother passed away a month earlier of cholera. Their father was stricken with grief and had hardly left his bed since, until the mail arrived today with a message that his brother was coming in from the big city next week.
Pa’s spirits had been so lifted that he jumped out of bed and rushed right out to milk the cows. He had given Jesse and Rebecca a list of things to retrieve from the town general store and excused them from their morning chores as soon as Rebecca finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes.
“You head on into the house and get lunch started,” Jesse instructed his sister. “I’ll take care of the horses.”
Rebecca nodded and carried the two bags of supplies into the house. She set the bags in the front hallway and headed for the kitchen. Her younger brother and sister were trailing right on her heels.
“What’s for lunch?” inquired Johnny. Rebecca noticed his pants were getting a bit snug around his waist and further from the floor every day. She decided to find some material and start making him some new pants.
“Can I help you cook it?” Susan asked.
“I am making biscuits and gravy, and I think Mrs. Miller has a chicken she is going to drop off in a little while,” Rebecca answered. “And I could sure use the help, Susie.”
As the girls set to work making lunch, Johnny snuck out the back door and headed in the same direction he saw Pa go earlier. He found Pa talking to Old Man Hubert, the man who owned their house and land. Johnny decided to try and hear what they were talking about, because Pa looked very upset.
“I know rent was due yesterday,” Pa was explaining, “but I haven’t much felt like getting out of bed and only have half. Please, my brother is coming in next week and he will be able to loan me the rest.”
“I’m sorry,” said Old Man Hubert. “If I don’t have the full sixty dollars by the end of the day, I’ll have to ask you fine folks to leave.”
Johnny couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could Old Man Hubert take their house away? Johnny raced off to the barn to find Jesse and tell him the horrible news.
“Jesse, Jesse,” Johnny called as he entered the barn.
“Woah,” Jesse said as he stuck out his arm and caught his little brother. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost. What’s wrong?”
“Old Man Hubert is threatening to take out house away!” Johnny shouted. “Pa was saying he didn’t have all the rent and Old Man Hubert threatened to take the house and make us leave and…”
“Pa can’t pay the rent?” Jesse interrupted. As the eldest of the children, Jesse had always taken a more parental role in the rest of the children’s lives. “How long do we have to get the money?”
“The end of the day. But where are we going to get a whole thirty dollars in a day?”
“Leave that to me.” Jesse wiped his hands with the towel that was hanging by the barn door. He headed off toward the Miller’s house.
Johnny ran into the house to tell his sisters, but he stopped when he smelled lunch. He cautiously entered and saw the girls laughing. He couldn’t disappoint them with this news. Instead, he put a smile on his face and wandered into the kitchen.
“Johnny, you need a new pair of trousers. Come with me to Ma’s sewing box so I can measure you.” Rebecca lead her brother to their mother’s sewing chest and began rummaging to find the measuring tape. As she was digging, Rebecca’s hand grazed a small tin box she had never seen before.
“Look at this,” she said as she pulled the box open. Inside were small, orderly stacks of dollar bills. “Ma must have saved this from her sewing. I wonder what we could do with this?”
“I have an idea,” Johnny said. “Wait here while I go get Jesse.”
Johnny rushed out of the house and down the dirt trail to the Miller’s. Jesse was sitting on the front porch with his head in his hands. Johnny pulled his shirt sleeve.
“Follow me, I have something to show you,” Johnny said.
“Why? We can’t get the money for rent. I asked Mr. Miller, but hey don’t have any extra to lend us.” Jesse buried his head further into his hands.
“Rebecca found money Ma had saved. There is way more than the thirty dollars we need,” Johnny said excitedly.
Hearing that, Jesse leaped up from the step and ran down the path. Johnny struggled to keep up as they ran up to Rebecca on their own front porch. She was clutching the tin tightly in her hand.
“We need to take that to Old Man Hubert as fast as we can,” Jesse said. Rebecca handed over the carefully counted thirty dollars and the boys ran off toward Old Man Hubert’s house.
“Pa! Pa!” Jesse and Johnny shouted in Unison as they saw Pa around the corner.
“Hello, boys,” Pa called back. “I was just trying to negotiate a work deal with Hubert here.”
“You don’t need to, Pa,” said Jesse.
“I overheard your conversation earlier,” admitted Johnny. “But we have the money to pay the rest of the rent.”
“Where did you find this money?” asked Pa.
“Rebecca found it in Ma’s sewing box,” answered Jesse.
“Here you go, Hubert. This makes the rent payment in full.” Pa handed over the money and turned sharply on his heel. The three Johnson men walked away from Old Man Hubert’s house as he stared at the money in his hands, baffled.