Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Appendix W

Little Bessie Would Assist Providence

(See Chapter cclxxxii)

[It is dull, and I need wholesome excitements and distractions; so I will go lightly excursioning along the primrose path of theology.]

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 harmonize with results. One day she said:

“Mama, why is there so much pain and sorrow and suffering? What is it all for?”

It was an easy question, and mama 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?”

“Yes.”

“Does He send all of them, mama?”

“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, mama? Was it you?”

“Oh no, child, I was taught it.”

“Who taught you so, mama?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“What for?”

“Why, to discipline him and make him good.”

“But he died, mama, 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, mama?”

“Oh, you ask so many questions! I think it was to discipline his parents.”

“Well, then, it wasn’t fair, mama. 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, mama?”

“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, mama. 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, mama?”

“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 to discipline the child — that much is certain, anyway.”

“Mama, 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 — mama, does He send them?”

“Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course.”

“What for?”

“Oh, to discipline us! Haven’t I told you so, over and over again?”

“It’s awful cruel, mama! And silly! and if I——”

“Hush, oh, hush! Do you want to bring the lightning?”

“You know the lightning did come last week, mama, 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, mama?”

“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, mama, 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, mama! — 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 —— Dear mama, have you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in town this hot weather.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05