Little Bessie was nearly three years old. She was a good child, and not shallow, not frivolous, but meditative and thoughtful, and much given to thinking out the reasons of things and trying to make them harmonise with results. One day she said --
"Mamma, why is there so much pain and sorrow and suffering? What is it all for?"
It was an easy question, and mamma had no difficulty in answering it:
"It is for our good, my child. In His wisdom and mercy the Lord sends us these afflictions to discipline us and make us better."
"Is it He that sends them?"
"Does He send all of them, mamma?"
"Yes, dear, all of them. None of them comes by accident; He alone sends them, and always out of love for us, and to make us better."
"Isn't it strange!"
"Strange? Why, no, I have never thought of it in that way. I have not heard any one call it strange before. It has always seemed natural and right to me, and wise and most kindly and merciful."
"Who first thought of it like that, mamma? Was it you?"
"Oh, no, child, I was taught it."
"Who taught you so, mamma?"
"Why, really, I don't know -- I can't remember. My mother, I suppose; or the preacher. But it's a thing that everybody knows."
"Well, anyway, it does seem strange. Did He give Billy Norris the typhus?"
"Why, to discipline him and make him good."
"But he died, mamma, and so it couldn't make him good."
"Well, then, I suppose it was for some other reason. We know it was a good reason, whatever it was."
"What do you think it was, mamma?"
"Oh, you ask so many questions! I think; it was to discipline his parents."
"Well, then, it wasn't fair, mamma. Why should his life be taken away for their sake, when he wasn't doing anything?"
"Oh, I don't know! I only know it was for a good and wise and merciful reason."
"What reason, mamma?"
"I think -- I think -- well, it was a judgment; it was to punish them for some sin they had committed."
"But he was the one that was punished, mamma. Was that right?"
"Certainly, certainly. He does nothing that isn't right and wise and merciful. You can't understand these things now, dear, but when you are grown up you will understand them, and then you will see that they are just and wise."
After a pause:
"Did He make the roof fall in on the stranger that was trying to save the crippled old woman from the fire, mamma?"
"Yes, my child. Wait! Don't ask me why, because I don't know. I only know it was to discipline some one, or be a judgment upon somebody, or to show His power."
"That drunken man that stuck a pitchfork into Mrs. Welch's baby when -- "
"Never mind about it, you needn't go into particulars; it was as to discipline the child -- that much is certain, anyway."
"Mamma, Mr. Burgess said in his sermon that billions of little creatures are sent into us to give us cholera, and typhoid, and lockjaw, and more than a thousand other sicknesses and -- mamma, does He send them?"
"Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course."
"Oh, to discipline us! haven't I told you so, over and over again?"
"It's awful cruel, mamma! And silly! and if I -- "
"Hush, oh hush! do you want to bring the lightning?"
"You know the lightning did come last week, mamma, and struck the new church, and burnt it down. Was it to discipline the church?"
(Wearily). "Oh, I suppose so."
"But it killed a hog that wasn't doing anything. Was it to discipline the hog, mamma?"
"Dear child, don't you want to run out and play a while? If you would like to -- "
"Mama, only think! Mr. Hollister says there isn't a bird or fish or reptile or any other animal that hasn't got an enemy that Providence has sent to bite it and chase it and pester it, and kill it, and suck; its blood and discipline it and make it good and religious. Is that true, mother -- because if it is true, why did Mr. Hollister laugh at it?"
"That Hollister is a scandalous person, and I don't want you to listen to anything he says."
"Why, mamma, he is very interesting, and I think he tries to be good. He says the wasps catch spiders and cram them down into their nests in the ground -- alive, mamma! -- and there they live and suffer days and days and days, and the hungry little wasps chewing their legs and gnawing into their bellies all the time, to make them good and religious and praise God for His infinite mercies. I think Mr. Hollister is just lovely, and ever so kind; for when I asked him if he would treat a spider like that, he said he hoped to be damned if he would; and then he -- "
"My child! oh, do for goodness' sake -- "
"And mamma, he says the spider is appointed to catch the fly, and drive her fangs into his bowels, and suck and suck and suck his blood, to discipline him and make him a Christian; and whenever the fly buzzes his wings with the pain and misery of it, you can see by the spider's grateful eye that she is thanking the Giver of All Good for -- well, she's saving grace, as he says; and also, he -- "
"Oh, aren't you ever going to get tired chattering! If you want to go out and play -- "
"Mama, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can't do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won't answer, it is weak and no good -- Providence's way is best, and it is every parent's duty and every person's duty to help discipline everybody, and cripple them and kill them, and starve them, and freeze them, and rot them with diseases, and lead them into murder and theft and dishonor and disgrace; and he says Providence's invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was, and not even an idiot could get up anything shinier. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away: and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and consumption, and -- Dear mamma, have you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in town this hot weather."
Mamma. You disobedient child, have you been associating with that irreligious Hollister again?
Bessie. Well, mamma, he is interesting, anyway, although wicked, and I can't help loving interesting people. Here is the conversation we had:
Hollister. Bessie, suppose you should take some meat and bones and fur, and make a cat out of it, and should tell the cat, Now you are not to be unkind to any creature, on pain of punishment and death. And suppose the cat should disobey, and catch a mouse and torture it and kill it. What would you do to the cat?
B. Because I know what the cat would say. She would say, It's my nature, I couldn't help it; I didn't make my nature, you made it. And so you are responsible for what I've done -- I'm not. I couldn't answer that, Mr. Hollister.
H. It's just the case of Frankenstein and his Monster over again.
B. What is that?
H. Frankenstein took some flesh and bones and blood and made a man out of them; the man ran away and fell to raping and robbing and murdering everywhere, and Frankenstein was horrified and in despair, and said, I made him, without asking his consent, and it makes me responsible for every crime he commits. I am the criminal, he is innocent.
B. Of course he was right.
H. I judge so. It's just the case of God and man and you and the cat over again.
B. How is that?
H. God made man, without man's consent, and made his nature, too; made it vicious instead of angelic, and then said, Be angelic, or I will ill punish you and destroy you. But no matter, God is responsible for everything man does, all the same; He can't get around that fact. There is only one Criminal, and it is not man.
Mamma. This is atrocious! it is wicked, blasphemous, irreverent, horrible!
Bessie. Yes'm, but it's true. And I'm not going to make a cat. I would be above making a cat if I couldn't make a good one.
Mamma, if a person by the name of Jones kills a person by the name of Smith just for amusement, it's murder, isn't it, and Jones is a murderer?
Yes, my child.
And Jones is punishable for it?
Yes, my child.
Why? Because God has forbidden homicide in the Ten Commandments, and therefore whoever kills a person commits a crime and must suffer for it.
But mamma, suppose Jones has by birth such a violent temper that he can't control himself?
He must control himself. God requires it.
But he doesn't make his own temper, mamma, he is born with it, like the rabbit and the tiger; and so, why should he be held responsible?
Because God says he is responsible and must control his temper.
But he can't, mamma; and so, don't you think it is God that does the killing and is responsible, because it was He that gave him the temper which he couldn't control?
Peace, my child! He must control it, for God requires it, and that ends the matter. It settles it, and there is no room for argument.
(After a thoughtful pause.) It doesn't seem to me to settle it. Mamma, murder is murder, isn't it? and whoever commits it is a murderer? That is the plain simple fact, isn't it?
(Suspiciously.) What are you arriving at now, my child?
Mamma, when God designed Jones He could have given him a rabbit's temper if He had wanted to, couldn't He?
Then Jones would not kill anybody and have to be hanged?
But He chose to give Jones a temper that would make him kill Smith. Why, then, isn't He responsible?
Because He also gave Jones a Bible. The Bible gives Jones ample warning not to commit murder; and so if Jones commits it he alone is responsible.
(Another pause.) Mamma, did God make the house-fly?
Certainly, my darling.
For some great and good purpose, and to display His power.
What is the great and good purpose, mamma?
We do not know, my child. We only know that He makes all things for a great and good purpose. But this is too large a subject for a dear little Bessie like you, only a trifle over three years old.
Possibly, mamma, yet it profoundly interests me. I have been reading about the fly, in the newest science-book. In that book he is called "the most dangerous animal and the most murderous that exists upon the earth, killing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children every year, by distributing deadly diseases among them." Think of it, mamma, the most fatal of all the animals! by all odds the most murderous of all the living things created by God. Listen to this, from the book:
Now, the house fly has a very keen scent for filth of any kind. Whenever there is any within a hundred yards or so, the fly goes for it to smear its mouth and all the sticky hairs of its six legs with dirt and disease germs. A second or two suffices to gather up many thousands of these disease germs, and then off goes the fly to the nearest kitchen or dining room. There the fly crawls over the meat, butter, bread, cake, anything it can find in fact, and often gets into the milk pitcher, depositing large numbers of disease germs at every step. The house fly is as disgusting as it is dangerous.
Isn't it horrible, mamma! One fly produces fifty-two billions of descendants in 60 days in June and July, and they go and crawl over sick people and wade through pus, and sputa, and foul matter exuding from sores, and gaum themselves with every kind of disease-germ, then they go to everybody's dinner-table and wipe themselves off on the butter and the other food, and many and many a painful illness and ultimate death results from this loathsome industry. Mamma, they murder seven thousand persons in New York City alone, every year -- people against whom they have no quarrel. To kill without cause is murder -- nobody denies that. Mamma?
Have the flies a Bible?
Of course not.
You have said it is the Bible that makes man responsible. If God didn't give him a Bible to circumvent the nature that He deliberately gave him, God would be responsible. He gave the fly his murderous nature, and sent him forth unobstructed by a Bible or any other restraint to commit murder by wholesale. And so, therefore, God is Himself responsible. God is a murderer. Mr. Hollister says so. Mr. Hollister says God can't make one moral law for man and another for Himself. He says it would be laughable.
Do shut up! I wish that that tiresome Hollister was in H -- amburg! He is an ignorant, unreasoning, illogical ass, and I have told you over and over again to keep out of his poisonous company.
Mamma, what is a virgin?"
"Well, what is a maid?"
"A girl or woman that isn't married."
"Uncle Jonas says that sometimes a virgin that has been having a child — "
"Nonsense! A virgin can't have a child."
"Why can't she, mamma?"
"Well, there are reasons why she can't."
"What reasons, mamma?"
"Physiological. She would have to cease to be a virgin before she could have the child."
"How do you mean, mamma?"
"Well, let me see. It's something like this: a Jew couldn't be a Jew after he had become a Christian; he couldn't be Christian and Jew at the same time. Very well, a person couldn't be mother and virgin at the same time."
"Why, mamma, Sally Brooks has had a child, and she's a virgin."
"Indeed?' Who says so?"
"She says so herself."
"Oh. no doubt! Are there any other witnesses?"
"Yes — there's a dream. She says the governor's private secretary appeared to her in a dream and told her she was going to have a child, and it came out just so."
"I shouldn't wonder! Did he say the governor was the corespondent?"
B. Mama, didn't you tell me an ex-governor, like Mr. Burlap, is a person that's been governor but isn't a governor any more?
M. Yes, dear.
B. And Mr. Williams said "ex" always stands for a Has Been, didn't he?
M. Yes, child. It is a vulgar way of putting it, but it expresses the fact.
B, (eagerly). So then Mr. Hollister was right, after all. He says the Virgin Mary isn't a virgin any more, she's a Has Been. He says --
M. It is false! Oh, it was just like that godless miscreant to try to undermine an innocent child's holy belief with his foolish lies; and if I could have my way, I --
B. But mama, -- honest and true -- is she still a virgin -- a real virgin, you know?
M. Certainly she is; and has never been anything but a virgin -- oh, the adorable One, the pure, the spotless, the undefiled!
B. Why, mama, Mr. Hollister says she can't be. That's what he says. He says she had five children after she had the One that was begotten by absent treatment and didn't break anything and he thinks such a lot of child-bearing, spread over years and years and years, would ultimately wear a virgin's virginity so thin that even Wall street would consider the stock too lavishly watered and you couldn't place it there at any discount you could name, because the Board would say it was wildcat, and wouldn't list it. That's what he says. And besides --
M. Go to the nursery, instantly! Go!
Mamma, is Christ God?
Yes, my child.
Mamma, how can He be Himself and Somebody Else at the same time?
He isn't, my darling. It is like the Siamese twins — two persons, one born ahead of the other, but equal in authority, equal in power.
I understand it, now, mamma, and it is quite simple. One twin has sexual intercourse with his mother, and begets himself and his brother; and next he has sexual intercourse with his grandmother and begets his mother. I should think it would be difficult, mamma, though interesting. Oh, ever so difficult. I should think that the Corespondent —
All things are possible with God, my child.
yes, I suppose so. But not with any other Siamese twin, I suppose. You don't think any ordinary Siamese twin could beget himself and his brother on his mother, do you, mamma, and then go on back while his hand is in and beget her, too, on his grandmother?
Certainly not, my child. None but God can do these wonderful and holy miracles.
And enjoy them. For of course He enjoys them, or He wouldn't go foraging around among the family like that, would He, mamma? — injuring their reputations in the village and causing talk. Mr. Hollister says it was wonderful and awe-inspiring in those days, but wouldn't work now. He says that if the Virgin lived in Chicago now, and got in the family way and explained to the newspaper fellows that God was the Corespondent, she couldn't get two in ten of them to believe it. He says they are a hell of a lot!
Well, that is what he says, anyway.
Oh, I do wish you would keep away from that wicked, wicked man!
He doesn't mean to be wicked, mamma, and he doesn't blame God. No, he doesn't blame Him; he says they all do it — gods do. It's their habit, they've always been that way.
What way, dear?
Going around unvirgining the virgins. He says our God did not invent the idea — it was old and mouldy before He happened on it. Says He hasn't invented anything, but got His Bible and His Flood and His morals and all His ideas from earlier gods, and they got them from still earlier gods. He says there never was a god yet that wasn't born of a Virgin. Mr. Hollister says no virgin is safe where a god is. He says he wishes he was a god; he says he would make virgins so scarce that —
Peace, peace! Don't run on so, my child. If you —
— and he advised me to lock my door nights, because —
Hush, hush, will you!
— because although I am only three and a half years old and quite safe from men —
Mary Ann, come and get this child! There, now, go along with you, and don't come near me again until you can interest yourself in some subject of a lower grade and less awful than theology.
Bessie, (disappearing.) Mr. Hollister says there ain't any.