PRIZE STORIES OF 1924
heaval followed by a period of atheism in late adolescence are unfailing indications of good health and normal mental development. My atheism was superinduced by a tragedy in the lives of two very dear schoolmates. They were older than I by several years, but we had played together and been friends. The girl, Bessie, was engaged to the boy, Tom. They were to have been married in June, and they went out together three or four nights a week. They were models of good behaviour and extremely religious. Tom didn’t even use tobacco. For some reason that always counted on the credit side of a man's devotion to religion in our community. I heard my mother tell my father what happened. She said:
"They let their foot slip."
He smiled, rather amused, I thought. Then he said:
"Well, they can get married right away."
"Bessie won't," my mother said.
"What!" Father exclaimed.
And then Mother told the story. Bessie felt that she was not fit to marry any one. Tom, it seemed, was so shocked and puzzled that all he did was say he was "willing to marry her just the same." If he said it like that, it must have sounded like condescending to accept an inferior. As a matter of fact, I later learned that Tom didn’t know whether Bessie was right or not. His instinct and common sense told him it didn't matter, but there was such a furor about it all that the mean little streak in him came out, and he began to wonder whether he was risking himself. He wanted to take good care of Tom. Bessie was merely living up to what she had been taught all her life, and now when her parents turned against their own teachings and tried to hurry the wedding, she considered them as vile as herself. In the midst of the scandal—and there need never have been one—Bessie ran away and entered an ordinary public house. She committed suicide there about two weeks later. My point of view had been just about the same as Bessie's. But right then and there my point of view underwent a violent change. I was an atheist and I wanted every one to know it. I wanted to fight about it.
I told Maggie about Tom and Bessie. She expressed no opinion. I think she was the only person who ever heard the story without expressing an opinion. She laughed. It