Of course, they tell all sorts of little unspoken lies, just like anybody; but they don't notice it until their attention is called to it. They have got me so that sometimes I never tell a verbal lie now except in a modified form; and even in the modified form they don't approve of it. Still, that is as far as I can go in the interest of the growing friendly relations between the two countries; I must keep some of my self-respect--and my health. I can live on a pretty low diet, but I can't get along on no sustenance at all.

Of course, there are times when these people have to come out with a spoken lie, for that is a thing which happens to everybody once in a while, and would happen to the angels if they came down here much. Particularly to the angels, in fact, for the lies I speak of are self- sacrificing ones told for a generous object, not a mean one; but even when these people tell a lie of that sort it seems to scare them and unsettle their minds. It is a wonderful thing to see, and shows that they are all insane. In fact, it is a country which is full of the most interesting superstitions.

I have an English friend of twenty-five years' standing, and yesterday when we were coming down-town on top of the 'bus I happened to tell him a lie--a modified one, of course; a half-breed, a mulatto; I can't seem to tell any other kind now, the market is so flat. I was explaining to him how I got out of an embarrassment in Austria last year. I do not know what might have become of me if I hadn't happened to remember to tell the police that I belonged to the same family as the Prince of Wales. That made everything pleasant and they let me go; and apologised, too, and were ever so kind and obliging and polite, and couldn't do too much for me, and explained how the mistake came to be made, and promised to hang the officer that did it, and hoped I would let bygones be bygones and not say anything about it; and I said they could depend on me. My friend said, austerely:

'You call it a modified lie? Where is the modification?'

I explained that it lay in the form of my statement to the police. 'I didn't say I belonged to the Royal Family; I only said I belonged to the same family as the Prince--meaning the human family, of course; and if those people had had any penetration they would have known it. I can't go around furnishing brains to the police; it is not to be expected.'

'How did you feel after that performance?'

'Well, of course I was distressed to find that the police had misunderstood me, but as long as I had not told any lie I knew there was no occasion to sit up nights and worry about it.'

My friend struggled with the case several minutes, turning it over and examining it in his mind, then he said that so far as he could see the modification was itself a lie, it being a misleading reservation of an explanatory fact, and so I had told two lies instead of only one.

'I wouldn't have done it,' said he; 'I have never told a lie, and I should be very sorry to do such a thing.'

Just then he lifted his hat and smiled a basketful of surprised and delighted smiles down at a gentleman who was passing in a hansom.

'Who was that, G---?'

'I don't know.'

'Then why did you do that?'

'Because I saw he thought he knew me and was expecting it of me. If I hadn't done it he would have been hurt. I didn't want to embarrass him before the whole street.'

'Well, your heart was right, G---, and your act was right. What you did was kindly and courteous and beautiful; I would have done it myself; but it was a lie.'

'A lie? I didn't say a word. How do you make it out?'

'I know you didn't speak, still you said to him very plainly and enthusiastically in dumb show, "Hello! you in town? Awful glad to see you, old fellow; when did you get back?" Concealed in your actions was what you have called "a misleading reservation of an explanatory fact"-- the act that you had never seen him before. You expressed joy in encountering him--a lie; and you made that reservation--another lie.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and other Stories Page 28

Mark Twain

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