Moreover, a possibly harmful one."
The twins colored, but did not speak.
"You not only tell myriads of silent lies, but you tell lies with your mouths--you two."
"THAT is not so!"
"It is so. But only harmless ones. You never dream of uttering a harmful one. Do you know that that is a concession--and a confession?"
"How do you mean?"
"It is an unconscious concession that harmless lies are not criminal; it is a confession that you constantly MAKE that discrimination. For instance, you declined old Mrs. Foster's invitation last week to meet those odious Higbies at supper--in a polite note in which you expressed regret and said you were very sorry you could not go. It was a lie. It was as unmitigated a lie as was ever uttered. Deny it, Hester--with another lie."
Hester replied with a toss of her head.
"That will not do. Answer. Was it a lie, or wasn't it?"
The color stole into the cheeks of both women, and with a struggle and an effort they got out their confession:
"It was a lie."
"Good--the reform is beginning; there is hope for you yet; you will not tell a lie to save your dearest friend's soul, but you will spew out one without a scruple to save yourself the discomfort of telling an unpleasant truth."
He rose. Hester, speaking for both, said; coldly:
"We have lied; we perceive it; it will occur no more. To lie is a sin. We shall never tell another one of any kind whatsoever, even lies of courtesy or benevolence, to save any one a pang or a sorrow decreed for him by God."
"Ah, how soon you will fall! In fact, you have fallen already; for what you have just uttered is a lie. Good-by. Reform! One of you go to the sick-room now."
Twelve days later.
Mother and child were lingering in the grip of the hideous disease. Of hope for either there was little. The aged sisters looked white and worn, but they would not give up their posts. Their hearts were breaking, poor old things, but their grit was steadfast and indestructible. All the twelve days the mother had pined for the child, and the child for the mother, but both knew that the prayer of these longings could not be granted. When the mother was told-- on the first day--that her disease was typhoid, she was frightened, and asked if there was danger that Helen could have contracted it the day before, when she was in the sick-chamber on that confession visit. Hester told her the doctor had poo-pooed the idea. It troubled Hester to say it, although it was true, for she had not believed the doctor; but when she saw the mother's joy in the news, the pain in her conscience lost something of its force--a result which made her ashamed of the constructive deception which she had practiced, though not ashamed enough to make her distinctly and definitely wish she had refrained from it. From that moment the sick woman understood that her daughter must remain away, and she said she would reconcile herself to the separation the best she could, for she would rather suffer death than have her child's health imperiled. That afternoon Helen had to take to her bed, ill. She grew worse during the night. In the morning her mother asked after her:
"Is she well?"
Hester turned cold; she opened her lips, but the words refused to come. The mother lay languidly looking, musing, waiting; suddenly she turned white and gasped out:
"Oh, my God! what is it? is she sick?"
Then the poor aunt's tortured heart rose in rebellion, and words came:
"No--be comforted; she is well."
The sick woman put all her happy heart in her gratitude:
"Thank God for those dear words! Kiss me. How I worship you for saying them!"
Hester told this incident to Hannah, who received it with a rebuking look, and said, coldly:
"Sister, it was a lie."
Hester's lips trembled piteously; she choked down a sob, and said:
"Oh, Hannah, it was a sin, but I could not help it. I could not endure the fright and the misery that were in her face."
"No matter. It was a lie. God will hold you to account for it."
"Oh, I know it, I know it," cried Hester, wringing her hands, "but even if it were now, I could not help it.