Faithfull Little Ruth

by Grace Greenwood

Little Ruth Mason sat one sweet June morning in the church-porch, by the side of her old grandfather, who stood reverently leaning on his staff, with his hat in his hand. They were both watching from that ivied porch a touching and impressive scene,—the burial service in the old churchyard.

Mr. Mason had been for many years the sexton of the parish, and though now too old to discharge the duties of the office, he felt such a loving interest in the parish church, one of the finest in England, that he could not keep away from it. Every day he visited the scene of his old labors, and kindly gave the new sexton the benefit of his long experience. Sometimes he might be seen kneeling in silent prayer in the noble chancel, the sunlight that streamed through the stained windows falling in tender glory on his venerable head. Sometimes he would linger by the hour in the beautiful churchyard, beside the graves of his wife, his son, and his son's wife, all the dear ones God had given him, except one little granddaughter. This last remaining object of his affection and care was a lovely and loving child, of a peculiarly thoughtful mind, and of a sweet, constant, religious nature. She had been carefully trained by a good grandmother, and was prudent and industrious beyond her years. When not in the little village school, she was almost always with her grandfather, his little companion, pupil, and house-keeper.

This interesting orphan child was most kindly regarded by many of the good village people. She seemed so lonely and helpless in the old sexton's desolate cottage,—but a poor place at best. Yet she was hardly an object of pity. Her father and mother had died in her infancy, and after her first childish grieving for her grandmother was past, she seemed quite happy and content with the care and companionship of her grandfather. It was with difficulty that she had been persuaded now and then to leave him to spend an afternoon at the pleasant Rectory, when the Rector's kind wife sent for her, to amuse a sickly little daughter, who was very fond of her, and in whom Ruth's health, strength, and cheery spirit excited a pathetic wonder and delight.

It was the burial of this child, poor little Lilly Kingsley, which Ruth and her grandfather were beholding from the shadowy church-porch on that lovely June morning. Mr. Mason stood with his head bowed, intently listening to the solemn burial service, and reverently wondering at the providence of God, which had passed by him, so old, feeble, and almost useless, and taken from the good Rector and his wife their one only darling.

Ruth had wept bitterly over the body of her little friend, as she had seen it that morning, in the coffin, almost covered with white flowers, and nearly as white as they; but now she watched the mournful ceremonies with a rapt and eager interest, too profound for tears. Her young spirit was struggling with the mystery of death, and thoughts of immortality. She knew that the wasted little body let down into the dark grave was not all of her poor playmate, and she strove to picture a little angel like Lilly, only blooming, and happy, and free from pain, borne upwards through the still summer night, by tender angels, who looked back very pityingly on the grieving parents, bending over the death-bed of their risen darling.

So lost was the child in these thoughts, that she did not speak nor move till the service was over, and the weeping group that had stood by the grave had passed out of the churchyard.

A few days after this funeral, little Ruth coming home from school, found the Rector in earnest conversation with her grandfather. She courtesied timidly to the clergyman, but he drew her to his knee, looked kindly into her beautiful dark eyes, and said, "How would Ruth like to live always at the Rectory, and fill the place of our little lost daughter?"

Ruth's sweet face flushed with delight, and she answered, "O, sir, I should dearly love such a beautiful home, and you would too, would n't you, grandpapa?"

The Rector looked at Mr. Mason, and the old man, drawing the child to him, said tenderly, "My dear little girl, your old grandfather cannot leave this cottage, in which he was born, and in which he has always lived, until he goes to his long home."

"Then I'll not go," cried Ruth, impulsively flinging her arms about his neck. "I 'll never, never leave you. Who would take care of you if I were gone?"

The Rector smiled; but the old man answered gravely, "I know I shall miss you, dear, very much; but the Lord will care for me, and He it is who has provided this home for my darling. I bless His name for His loving-kindness. You have always been a good, obedient child to me, and I know you will obey me, even when I send you away from me,—for your best good, mind, my darling."

Ruth still wept, and begged to be allowed to stay with him; but her grandfather was firm, and she yielded at last. He led her to the Rectory, kissed and blessed her, and placed her in the arms of Mrs. Kingsley, then hobbled out of the gate, and back to his desolate cottage, as fast as his poor old limbs could carry him.

Ruth was very sad all the afternoon, though everybody was kind to her, and her new mother strove tenderly to comfort her. As evening came on, her heart would go back to the humble old home, and the white-haired, feeble old man, who she knew must be thinking of her, and missing her so sadly. At length, Mrs. Kingsley conducted her to a pleasant little chamber, which was henceforth to be her own. The good lady helped her to undress, put on her a dainty little ruffled nightgown, and knelt with her by her bedside while she said her prayers. After praying in a broken voice for her poor old grandpapa in his loneliness, the child remembered to ask God's blessing on her new parents. After seeing her in her snowy little bed, Mrs. Kingsley removed Ruth's clothes to a closet near by, and brought out a complete suit of garments suited to her new condition. They were very neat and pretty, and Ruth, who loved all beautiful things, smiled on them through her tears, and reaching out her hand, felt of them with simple, childish delight. Then a strange, thoughtful look passing over her face, she said, "Mamma!" Mrs. Kingsley started. It was the first time she had heard that name since her Lilly died, though she had asked Ruth to call her by it when she was first brought to the Rectory. But she answered, with a smile, "What, my daughter?"

"Why, mamma, laying off my faded clothes and putting on those lovely new ones will be like Lilly, leaving the poor, pale body she used to have, for her glorious angel body, won't it?"

"Yes, darling," replied the mother, to whose heart the simple illustration brought a sweet, wonderful realization of the blessed change; and as she stooped and kissed Ruth good night, a tear fell on the little girl's cheek.

The adopted child slept tranquilly till nearly morning, when she awoke suddenly, probably from a dream of the home she had left, but thinking that she heard a voice above her, saying solemnly, "Ruth, little Ruth, why hast thou forsaken My servant, thy grandfather?"

She was not frightened, yet she could not sleep again, but sat up in her little bed, impatiently waiting for the day. In the first gray light of dawn she rose, went to the closet, took out her old clothes, and dressed herself in them, and casting scarcely a look on the new clothes or round the sweet little chamber, she stole softly down stairs. She found a housemaid in the hall, who, not knowing the plans of her master and mistress in regard to the little girl, let her out, and she ran swiftly home. She found the cottage door unfastened, for the poor have little fear of burglars. Entering quietly, and finding her grandpapa still asleep, she lay down by his side, and when he awoke, her dear arms were about his neck, and her loving eyes smiling into his. At first, he forgot she had been away; but after a moment, he remembered, and exclaimed, "You here, little Ruth? Why did you come back, against my wish?"

"Because the Lord sent me back," she answered, gravely.

"Why, child, what do you mean?" he asked.

"Grandpapa, dear, this is how it was: There was a voice, such a sweet and solemn voice, that came and sounded right by me, in the darkness, and it said, 'Ruth, little Ruth, why forsakest thou My servant, thy grandfather?' and I was sure it was the Lord's voice, the very same that spoke to little Samuel, and I could not stay after I heard it. I will never leave you to live and die alone, even if the queen wants to adopt me. Why, grandpapa, if God had meant you to be without me, He would have taken me, instead of little Lilly Kingsley. So don't send me away from you, dear grandpapa; it would be wicked."

The good old man, with tears in his dim eyes, replied, "No, my darling little girl shall not be sent away again; it does seem to be the Lord's will that you should stay with me as long as I stay."

And so she stayed,—the faithful little Ruth. Her good friends at the Rectory were sorry to lose her, but not displeased with her, and were more kind than ever to her and her grandfather. The next Sunday, as she knelt with him among the poor, she was glad in her heart that she was not shut away from him in the Rector's crimson-cushioned pew.

It was on a Sunday a few weeks later, that her grandfather, after their frugal dinner, called her to go with him to the churchyard, saying, "A year ago to-day, Ruth, your dear grandmother died; let us go and spend an hour or two by her grave."

They took the family Bible, and read and talked a long time, sitting on the daisied grass, under the pleasant shade of a willow. At last, the good old man seemed to grow weary, and bowing his white head on the grave, with one arm flung over it, he fell asleep while Ruth was singing a hymn which her grandmother had taught her. Then Ruth stole away, and wandered about the churchyard, reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, till the people began to enter the church for evening service. Then she returned to her grandfather, and touched him on the shoulder, to wake him. But he did not move. She called his name, but he did not seem to hear her. Just then the Rector came up, and seeing Ruth's trouble, bent down to look into the face of the old man. He raised the withered hand that lay on the mound, and held it a moment, looking anxious and sad. When he laid it down, he put his arms about Ruth, and said, tenderly, "My dear child, your grandfather is awake—in Heaven. He will never wake on earth. The Lord has taken him."

With a piteous cry Ruth flung herself by the side of her dead grandfather, and called him by many fond names, weeping bitterly; and strong men wept in pity for her bereavement, and stood with uncovered heads as her grandfather was lifted and borne to his old home.

Ruth

Ruth

From that old home he was carried forth to be laid by the side of his dear old wife; but from that lonely cottage little Ruth was led weeping, yet grateful, to her new home by the Rector and his wife, henceforth to be to them a dear and cherished child. Few were the tears she shed in that beautiful home, and tenderly were they wiped away; and if the Lord ever spoke to her again in her peaceful little chamber, through the darkness, it was in "the still, small voice" of blessing, love, and comfort.