These houses are opposite each other in a beautiful suburban town. “My house” is large and handsome, with a cupola, and has a rich lawn before it. It is surrounded by a large piazza, and graced and shaded by ancestral elms and huge buttonwood trees. Its barns and stables are large and well-filled; its orchards are gorgeous with fruit, in the season, and the fields around it seem alive with golden grain that waves in the wind. Everything about the place tells of long-continued prosperity. The rich old squire who lives there rides about with his fine horses, and talks a great deal to his neighbors about “my house, my orchards, and my horses.”
His wife is evidently the lady of the region. She was a model housekeeper and a dairy woman in the days when they worked the farm, and is now an oracle on many questions. She, too, talks of ”my house, my horses, and my estate.”
These persons each brought property to the other, and the two interests have, unfortunately, never flowed together and formed one estate as they should have done; so there are always two separate interests in the house.
Of course the property belongs legally to both; but as each has a snug little fund laid away, the question is always to be settled, if repairs are to be made, or horses or furniture bought, who shall pay for it.
It seems but proper to the husband that carpets and sofas, etc., shall be bought by his wife; also the cows, as the lady is at the head of the house. But she says, “You walk on the carpets, sit on the sofas, and eat the cream and butter just as much as I do, and I see no reason why you should not, at least help pay for them.”
Such discussions often occur, but, on the whole, each upholds the interest of the other against outsiders, and gets along without open rupture. They ride about in better dress than their neighbors, they receive and return visits, and are called the leading family in town.
But ”my house,” as some have named the great square mansion, is nobody’s house but its owners’. No guest who can not return hospitality in equal style is asked to tarry for a night there. All minister sojourning in that place are directed by them to the humble parsonage for entertainment. Every weary, homeless wanderer is pointed to the distant almshouse; and a neighbor’s horse or cow which has strayed from its own enclosure, is at once put into the pound by the squire’s man.
If an appeal is made for any benevolent object the squire says, “Go to my house and ask my wife to give you something.” She, in turn, points the applicant to the field or the orchard, and says, “Go down there and ask my husband to give you something.” So one puts it on the other, and nothing is given; and neither the town or the world is the better for their living.
This is the way things are done at “my house.”
Across the street, under the shadow of two wide spreading elms, stands a very modest cottage nestled in vines and flowers, with curtains drawn up to let in the light of God’s blessed sun, and an ever-open door with a great chair in full view, holding out its time-worn arms, as if to invite and welcome in the weary passer-by. The birds are always remembered here in their times of scarcity, and so in token of their gratitude, they gather in the trees and carol out sweet and merry songs by way of paying their bills.
God’s peace, as well as His plenty, rests on this place, and as their owner’s call it, in their hearts, “God’s house,” they speak of it to others, always as “our house.”
Twenty-five years ago a sturdy, brave-hearted young mechanic bought this one acre of land and with his own hands dug and walled a cellar, at time when he had no work to do for others. When he had earned an additional hundred or two dollars he bought lumber and began to build a house. People asked him what he was going to do with it, and he replied that if he should live to finish it, he was going to live in it.
Well, in two years the house was finished, to the last nail and hook. Then he went away, as it was thought, for a wife. In a week he returned, bringing with him some neat household furniture, and three persons instead of only one.
He did bring a wife—a bright-eyed, merry-hearted young girl—and also two aged women, “our mothers,” as he called them.
The first night in the house they dedicated their humble home—“our house” to God, and in the name of the Lord they set up their banner, praying that ever after this his banner over them might be love.
Many a family moves into a new home and asks God to come in and prosper them, and take up His abode their; but they do nothing to draw Him thither. They begin for self, and go on for self; and sometimes God leaves them to themselves.
But the young owners of “our house”—the children of “our mothers”—made their little home His home and the home of His poor and feeble ones. “Our mothers” now laid down the weapons of toil over which they had grown gray, and came out of the vale of honest poverty into the sunshine of plenty. Their hearts grew warm in this gift of double love. They renewed their youth.
In their first day at their children’s home, one of “our mothers” spoke of “Henry’s new house,” when he checked her, saying, “Never call this my house again. I built it for God and for all of you, and I want it always called ‘our house.’ There is yet one thing I want done here before I shall feel that I have made my thank-offering to God for health and strength and the work which have enabled me to build and pay for this house. I promised then that no stranger or wanderer should ever go hungry or weary from this door. You have made sure of a neat and sunny room for our friends. Now I want a bed, a chair, and a table put in the shed- chamber for such strangers as we cannot ask into the house. I want also to fill the little store-closet under the back stairway with provisions to give the needy. They will then not be our own; and if at any time we should be short of money, we will not be tempted to say, ‘I have nothing to give.’ I want to live for more than self, and I know you all share the feeling. I want to feel that God is here, and to live as if we saw Him and were all under His actual guidance and care, and to realize that he sees and approves our way in life.”
Thus was “our house” opened, and thus was it kept—a home sanctified to humanity and to God.
The years rolled away, not without changes, but peace and plenty still reign in the modest home whose owners are looked up to by all the town’s people—rich as well as poor—as friends and benefactors; for all men a like need human sympathy and comfort.
The young carpenter of twenty-five years ago, is now a prosperous builder in the great city near his home. He could afford to erect and occupy a house worth four times what the cottage cost. But he loves the place, and cannot tear himself from it. He has added more than one L to it, and he has refurnished it, and has brought into it many articles of taste and luxury.
When he is asked why he does not build a house more in accordance with his means, he replies:--
“No house could he build which would be like ‘our house.’ I cannot forget the night we and our mothers dedicated it to God in prayer and simple trust; and ever since that night I have felt as if we were dwelling in the secret of His tabernacle, under the shadow of the Almighty. We might have a larger of more fashionable home, but it would bring weight and care on its mistress, and steal the time she had made sacred to others. No other house could have the memories this one has; no other house be hallowed as this house has been by the prayers and the holy and the blessings of the poor.”
And so the family still live on and are happy in “our house.” Still the pastor’s weary wife is relieved of church company, for, from the force of habit, all ministers and others on errands of good, draw up their horses before the well-filled stable, and ring, for themselves, at this open door. Still the poor are fed from that store-closet under the back stairway; still the wanderer—though he be a wanderer in a double sense—rests his weary head in that shed-chamber.
The squire wonders at the builder, because he lives in such a modest way compared with his means, and says, ”If I were he, I’d be ashamed of that cottage which was all well enough when he was a young journeyman.”
The builder wonders what the squire does with all that great house, and why, when half a dozen rooms are empty there, he doesn’t allow himself the pleasure of company, and of sheltering stranger and getting the blessing they bring.
The squire’s wife peeps through her fine curtains, and says, “I wonder that pretty intelligent woman hasn’t more taste. She might live like a lady if she pleased, and dress as I do; but she pokes on just as she began, and dresses no better than the minister’s wife, and has a rabble of poor, forlorn creatures whom I wouldn’t let into my house, nor into my wood-shed, running after her for food and clothing, and nobody knows what.”
“So you see, “my house” is literally “my house,” and “our house” is God’s house.