“Been to church, I suppose, Mrs. Marsh?” I said. “Or just going, perhaps?”
Her face, as she looked up a second to reply, was like an iron doll that moved its lips and turned its eyes, but made no other imitation of life at all.
“Some of us still goes, sir,” she said unctuously.
It was respectful enough, yet the implied judgment of the rest of the world made me almost angry. A deferential insolence lay behind the affected meekness.
“For those who believe no doubt it is helpful,” I smiled. “True religion brings peace and happiness, I’m sure—joy, Mrs. Marsh, joy!” I found keen satisfaction in the emphasis.
She looked at me like a knife. I cannot describe the implacable thing that shone in her fixed, stern eyes, nor the shadow of felt darkness that stole across her face. She glittered. I felt hate in her. I knew— she knew too—who was in the thoughts of us both at that moment.
She replied softly, never forgetting her place for an instant:
“There is joy, sir—in ’eaven—over one sinner that repenteth, and in church there goes up prayer to Gawd for those ’oo—well, for the others, sir, ’oo—”
She cut short her sentence thus. The gloom about her as she said it was like the gloom about a hearse, a tomb, a darkness of great hopeless dungeons. My tongue ran on of itself with a kind of bitter satisfaction:
“We must believe there are no others, Mrs. Marsh. Salvation, you know, would be such a failure if there were. No merciful, all-foreseeing God could ever have devised such a fearful plan—”
Her voice, interrupting me, seemed to rise out of the bowels of the earth:
“They rejected the salvation when it was offered to them, sir, on earth.”
“But you wouldn’t have them tortured forever because of one mistake in ignorance,” I said, fixing her with my eye. “Come now, would you, Mrs. Marsh? No God worth worshipping could permit such cruelty. Think a moment what it means.”
She stared at me, a curious expression in her stupid eyes. It seemed to me as though the “woman” in her revolted, while yet she dared not suffer her grim belief to trip. That is, she would willingly have had it otherwise but for a terror that prevented.
“We may pray for them, sir, and we do—we may ’ope.” She dropped her eyes to the carpet.
“Good, good!” I put in cheerfully, sorry now that I had spoken at all. “That’s more hopeful, at any rate isn’t it?”