“Yes, but it has,” squealed Marion, holding her sides and laughing still. “Oh, Ruthie, Ruthie, you will be the death of me! And so you think that this is religion! You honestly suppose that standing up in church and having your name read off constitutes Christianity! Don’t do it, Ruthie; you have never been a hypocrite, and I have always honored you because you were not. If this is all the religion you can find, go without it forever and ever, for I tell you there is not a single bit in it.”
Her laughter had utterly ceased, and her voice was solemn in its intensity.
“I don’t know what you mean in the least,” Ruth said, testily. “You are talking about something of which you know nothing.”
“So are you. Oh, Ruthie, so are you! Yes, I know something about it; I know that you haven’t reached the A, B, C, of it. Why, Ruthie, do you remember that story this afternoon? Do you remember that little boy in the garret, how he turned his face to the wall and asked God to save him? Have you done that? Do you honestly think that you, Ruth Erskine, have anything to be saved from? Don’t you know the little fellow said, ‘He answered.’ Has He answered you? Why, Ruth, do you never listen to the church covenant? How does it read: ’That it is eminently fit and proper for those who believe that God made them to join the church?’ Ruth Erskine, you can never take more solemn vows upon you than you will have to take if you unite with the church, and I beg you not to do it. I tell you it means more than that. I had a father who was a member of the church and he prayed—oh, how he prayed! He was the best man who ever lived on earth! Every one knew he was good; every one thought he was a saint; and it seems to me as though I could never love any God who did not give him a happier lot than he had as a reward for his holy life. But do you think he thought himself good? I tell you he felt that no one could be more weak and sinful and in need of saving than he was. Oh, I know the people who make up churches have more than this in them. I think it is all a deception, but it is a blessed one to have. I know these people at Chautauqua have it, hundreds of them. I see the same look in their faces that my father had in his, and if I could only get the same delusion into my heart I would hug it for my blessed father’s sake; but don’t you ever go into the church and subscribe to these things that they will ask of you until you have felt the same need of help and the same sense of being helped that they have. If you do, and there is a God, I would rather stand my chance with him than to have yours.”
And Marion seized her hat and rushed out into the night, leaving Ruth utterly dumbfounded.
ONE MINUTE’S WORK.
Marion struck out into the darkness, caring little which way she went; she had rarely been so wrought upon; her veins seemed to glow with fire. What difference did it make? she asked herself. If there was nothing at all in it, why not let Ruth amuse herself by joining the church and playing at religion? It would add to her sense of dignity, and who would be hurt by it?