“Oh, I don’t defend myself,” said March. “I was there in the cause of literary curiosity and of conjugal disobedience. But Conrad—yes, he had some business there: it was his business to suffer there for the sins of others. Isabel, we can’t throw aside that old doctrine of the Atonement yet. The life of Christ, it wasn’t only in healing the sick and going about to do good; it was suffering for the sins of others. That’s as great a mystery as the mystery of death. Why should there be such a principle in the world? But it’s been felt, and more or less dumbly, blindly recognized ever since Calvary. If we love mankind, pity them, we even wish to suffer for them. That’s what has created the religious orders in all times—the brotherhoods and sisterhoods that belong to our day as much as to the mediaeval past. That’s what is driving a girl like Margaret Vance, who has everything that the world can offer her young beauty, on to the work of a Sister of Charity among the poor and the dying.”
“Yes, yes!” cried Mrs. March. “How—how did she look there, Basil?” She had her feminine misgivings; she was not sure but the girl was something of a poseuse, and enjoyed the picturesqueness, as well as the pain; and she wished to be convinced that it was not so.
“Well,” she said, when March had told again the little there was to tell, “I suppose it must be a great trial to a woman like Mrs. Horn to have her niece going that way.”
“The way of Christ?” asked March, with a smile.
“Oh, Christ came into the world to teach us how to live rightly in it, too. If we were all to spend our time in hospitals, it would be rather dismal for the homes. But perhaps you don’t think the homes are worth minding?” she suggested, with a certain note in her voice that he knew.
He got up and kissed her. “I think the gimcrackeries are.” He took the hat he had set down on the parlor table on coming in, and started to put it in the hall, and that made her notice it.
“You’ve been getting a new hat!”
“Yes,” he hesitated; “the old one had got—was decidedly shabby.”
“Well, that’s right. I don’t like you to wear them too long. Did you leave the old one to be pressed?”
“Well, the hatter seemed to think it was hardly worth pressing,” said March. He decided that for the present his wife’s nerves had quite all they could bear.
It was in a manner grotesque, but to March it was all the more natural for that reason, that Dryfoos should have Lindau’s funeral from his house. He knew the old man to be darkly groping, through the payment of these vain honors to the dead, for some atonement to his son, and he imagined him finding in them such comfort as comes from doing all one can, even when all is useless.