The Old Brown House by Unknown
It was very old, low-roofed, and weather-beaten, standing quite a little
stretch from the road, and you might have supposed it deserted but for
the thin column of smoke that wound slowly above the roof, so desolate
did it look.
But it was inhabited, and could you have pushed aside the creaking door,
you might have seen an old woman, wrinkled and gray, sitting by the
silent hearth, stirring the dull fire, or looking absently from the
It was Aunt Ruth Jones, as the neighbors called her, of whom little was
known, except that she was a queer old woman—a sort of hermit, living
all alone in the neglected old house. It had come into her possession,
with a small farm adjoining, by the death of her parents some thirty
At first the neighbors were curious to see the new occupant; they found
a tall, spare woman, then about thirty-four years of age, little given
to gossip, shy, and cold. Some affirmed that she was proud, and others
said that her life had been one of disappointment. But none had
succeeded in drawing out her story, and gradually the old brown house
and its occupant were left to themselves.
Years had wrought changes; the walls were now darkened with smoke, the
windows dingy, the floor sunken in; there was nothing cheery in the
ill-kept room, or in the face of Aunt Ruth. Some natures become
shriveled and cramped when left to themselves, and hers was such an one;
I am afraid it was also narrowed and hardened by being shut off from
humanity, with none to share her joys or grief, or to care indeed, if
she had any.
As the days came and went, they brought nothing to her but a little
round of chores, a bit of patchwork, or straw braiding, and occasionally
a walk to the village store to buy the few articles she required.
The gay dresses and pert stare of the village girls, the glimpses of
happy homes caught through the windows, and the noisy stir of life, only
made more striking the contrast of her own lonely lot. Gladly would she
hasten back to her own silent fireside, where the cats, at least, were
glad of her presence. Old Brindle knew her step, and tossed her head
impatiently for nubbins of corn, or the pail of slop with which she was
wont to be treated. The hens cackled merrily, and scarcely stirred from
their tracks, as her dress brushed their shining feathers.
The care of these creatures was a kind of company, and on frosty
mornings Aunt Ruth might be seen watching them eating so greedily,
while her own breakfast was yet untasted, and her feet and fingers
benumbed with cold.
Though none shared her heart or home, yet there was sometimes one bright
presence within those dim walls, a childish, questioning voice, and
It was Bessie Lane. One June day, on her way to school, a sudden dash of
rain had driven the child there for shelter. And ever since, the happy
little girl, with flaxen hair and clear eyes, would go to the forsaken
old house to chat with Aunt Ruth. As that springing step was heard, and
the latch lifted, there would come a gleam of brightness to the faded
eyes, and a smile to the thin mouth.
The child found ready entrance to the lonely heart; children will, you
know, they are so "queer," as wise old heads sometimes affirm.
"What in the world makes you visit that old hermit?" said Eliza Ray,
her schoolmate, one morning. "Bridget, our hired girl, says she is sure
such a looking old hag must be a witch."
"Witch or not, I like her;" and Bessie Lane tossed up her hat, and
pranced off after a fox squirrel just down the road.
So Bessie kept up her visits, and the two would sit and talk together by
the hour, Aunt Ruth showing her long-treasured trinkets, relics of years
gone by, and detailing their history, till Bessie's eyes would dilate
On this wintry morning, in which we have introduced her to you, sitting
by the dull fire, and looking from the dingy window, the time of
Bessie's absence had been longer than usual. The sky was leaden, and the
wind whistled down the chimney and shook the casements.
Suddenly Aunt Ruth starts and peers through the window. There is a
bright little hood and blue cloak approaching; she sees that, but not
the carefully wrapped parcel Bessie is carrying, for she hurries to
brighten the fire and brush the hearth.
"Good morning, Aunt Ruth. It has been ever so long since I have been
here, hasn't it?"
"Yes, a long time for a lonesome old body like me; but this is no place
for the young and happy, I know."
"Oh, yes it is, dear Aunt Ruthie. You must not say so. I like to come
real well. But Uncle Jake has been so sick; he sent for pa and ma, and I
went with them. It is such a long way off, I thought we never would get
there. And Oh, Aunt Ruth, I have not told you yet"—and the chubby face
"What is it, child?" picking up bits of litterings from the floor.
Somehow she always did so when Bessie was around, the hands
involuntarily moved in little touches of order and neatness. The room
was good enough for her: for the child it seemed dismal and must be
brightened a little. But Aunt Ruth was unconscious that she was being
called to a better life, or that a love for light and beauty was
awakening in her weary heart.
"Well, I will tell you; we are going to move away. I declare, I think
it's too bad to leave all the girls just as I began to like them, and
you, too, Aunt Ruth. I don't want to go one bit;" tears rolling down her
"Going away, my little girl going off?" said Aunt Ruth seriously.
"Yes; and mamma said we couldn't move Chip, it would be such a bother,
so I have given poor birdie away to Allie Smith;" tears flowing afresh.
"I let Amy Wells have my kitten, but I haven't found a place for my poor
little rose. See," said Bessie, going to the table and removing the
wrapper from her parcel, "isn't it a beauty? You will keep it to
remember me by, and take care of it always, won't you, Aunt Ruth?"
The little blossoms were out in full, and seemed to smile a benediction
upon the old woman.
"Yes, yes, child, I will keep your rose; no harm shall come to it." The
little plant seemed to carry her thoughts away, for she began talking
absently to herself, then recalling her musings she said:—"So you are
going away; and you'll forget all about poor Aunt Ruth with so many new
friends. Well, well, it's natural."
"No, no, indeed I shall not," said Bessie, giving her a hearty hug, "and
sometime I will come to see you." They talked a long time, but at last,
with a good-by kiss to Aunt Ruth, and to the pet rose, she was gone like
a flitting sunbeam.
Then the shadows seemed to come back to the inmate of the old house; but
as her glance fell upon the little flower, she began clearing a place
for it to stand in the warmest corner, musing to herself the while:—
"Just such roses I used to carry in my hand to the old stone church in
Amsden when no bigger than Bessie. It seems like yesterday, but ah! it
is a long time. Maybe if I could do like that again, it would not be so
dark and lonesome like. I think I'll put the rose here by the south
window, then if the child ever does come, she will see it from the
Bringing a little pine stand, she carefully placed the plant upon it. In
doing so, she chanced to glance at the window. "Bless me! it never
looked quite so dirty before;" and Aunt Ruth moved with new life, as she
cleansed, rinsed, and polished the glass. But this being done, the old
muslin curtain seemed dingier than common, shading the clear glass; so
it was taken down, and another finer one unpacked from a drawer and put
in its place.
The next morning, as she ate her lonely breakfast, she placed her chair
to face the window and the rose. The sun was shining, and as the rays
streamed across the room to the opposite wall, she marked the cobwebs.
That day the cobwebs were swept down, the other window washed, and the
floor cleaned. The old house had not been so neat and cheery for many
Near the close of the week she went to the village, this time putting on
a dark delaine, instead of the snuff calico with a yellow flower.
Somehow the gay dresses and curious glances did not disturb her as much
as usual. A pleasant recognition was passed with a neighbor whom she had
not spoken to for a year.
A strange feeling had come over her,—a feeling that she was one of the
great human family after all, and the icy mountain of reserve began to
thaw just a little. Her purchases made, she concluded to take another
road home. This route lay past a church. It was lighted, though early,
and a few real worshipers had met to pray before the regular service.
They were singing now, and Aunt Ruth paused, as a clear, triumphant
voice bore up the strain,—
"Plunged in a gulf of dark despair."
Spell-bound, she listened to its close, never stirring from her tracks
till a group of people passed near, then slowly walking on, you might
have heard her talking again to herself:—
"O Ruth Jones, where are you? I used to sing that, too, in the same old
church where I carried the roses, only it was years after. I used to
pray, too. I wonder if God would hear me now."
That night, and many nights after, she could not sleep; the words of
song kept ringing in her ears, bringing up the old scenes and
associations, till the great deep of her soul was broken up.
In her darkness she felt gropingly, feebly, for the old paths, and the
good Spirit was all the time leading her back to the light. I can not
retrace for you all the way that she came. I only know that gradually,
surely, the night wore away, and the Sun of peace shone upon her soul.
She went to the church, where the song had that night staid her
footsteps, and listened to the words of life.
Her life became a blessing; for her nature was broadened, deepened and
purified. The sick and needy learned to be glad at her coming, and
little children ran to meet her.
And did Bessie Lane ever come again?
Yes, when June smiled upon the earth, the childish figure once more
paused at the gate, but the blue eyes gazed bewildered around. "This
isn't the place. Aunt Ruth must have moved away." Well might she think
so; the house was neatly painted, the yard fence repaired, and up and
down the path all sorts of flowers were blooming. Just then Bessie
descried a neatly dressed old lady tying up some vines.
"Can you tell me where Aunt Ruth Jones has gone that used to"—Bessie
stopped, and with one bound sprang into the woman's arms, for it was
Aunt Ruth herself.
"It is so beautiful here! how did it all happen?" cried the delighted
Aunt Ruth smiled brightly, and, taking Bessie by the hand, passed into
the neat, cheerful room, and up to the south window, where the carefully
tended rose was putting forth beauty and fragrance.
Bessie fairly danced with delight at sight of the rose, but Aunt Ruth
seated the child gently by her side, and told how it had happened; how
the little flower had at first whispered to her heart of the long ago;
of the holy song that would not let her sleep; and, lastly, of God's
good Spirit that had so tenderly led her straying steps to the sun-gilt
path of peace.