“Harder than being a man, do you think?” asked Dot, laughing.
“For goodness’ sake, don’t turn Catholic!” said Esther, in some alarm. “That would break father’s heart, if you like.”
A horror of Catholicism ran in the very marrow of these young people. It was one of the few relics of their father’s Puritanism surviving in them. Of “Catholics” they had been accustomed to speak since childhood as of nightmares and Red Indians with bloody scalps at their waists; and perhaps that instinctive terror of the subtle heart of Rome is the religious prejudice which we will do well to part with last.
Dot had not, indeed, contemplated an apostacy so unnatural; but beneath these comparatively trivial words there was an ever-growing impulse to fulfil that old longing of her nature to do something, as the Christians would say, “for God,” something serious, in return for the solemn and beautiful gift of life. By an accident, she had met Sister Agatha one day in the house of an old Irish servant of theirs, who had been compelled to leave them on account of ill-health, and on whom she had called with a little present of fruit. She had been struck by the sweetness of the Sister’s face, as the Sister had been struck by hers. Sister Agatha had invited Dot to visit her some day at the home for orphan children of which she had charge; and, with some misgiving as to whether it was right thus to visit a Catholic, whether even it was safe, Dot had accepted. So an acquaintance had grown up and ripened into a friendship; and Sister Agatha, while making no attempt to turn the friendship to the account of her church, was a great consolation to the lonely, religious girl.
Dot retained too much rationalism ever to become a Catholic, but the longing to do something grew and grew. At a certain moment, with each new generation of girls, there comes an epidemical desire in maiden bosoms to dedicate their sweet young lives to the service of what Esther called “horrible dirty people.” At these periods the hospitals are flooded with applications from young girls whom the vernal equinox urges first to be mothers, and, failing motherhood, nurses. Just before she met Henry, Angel had done her best to miss him by frantic endeavours to nurse people whom the hospital doctors decided she was far too slight a thing to lift,—for unless you can lift your patients, not to say throw them about, you fail in the muscular qualifications of a hospital nurse. Dot, as we have seen, was impelled in this direction from no merely sentimental impulse, unless the religious impulse, which paradoxically makes nuns of disappointed mothers, may so be called. Perhaps, unacknowledged, deep down in her heart, she longed to be the nurse—of one little wonderful child. Had this been granted her, it is probable that the maimed and the halt would have had less attraction for her pitying imagination. As it was, however, she persuaded herself that she loved them. Was it because, at the moment, no one else seemed to need her love?