Now I think a conscience can get drowsy and lazy, but I don't think it can go wrong; if you wake it up--

A Little Story

O.M. I will tell you a little story:

Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow whose little boy was ill and near to death. The Infidel often watched by the bedside and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these opportunities to satisfy a strong longing in his nature--that desire which is in us all to better other people's condition by having them think as we think. He was successful. But the dying boy, in his last moments, reproached him and said:

"I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST."

And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:

"MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING? WE HAVE DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD."

The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said:

"IT WAS WRONG--I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM GOOD. IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM THE TRUTH."

Then the mother said:

"I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY. NOW HE IS DEAD,--AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE. OUR FAITH CAME DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE WAS YOUR SHAME?"

Y.M. He was a miscreant, and deserved death!

O.M. He thought so himself, and said so.

Y.M. Ah--you see, HIS CONSCIENCE WAS AWAKENED1!

O.M. Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It PAINED him to see the mother suffer. He was sorry he had done a thing which brought HIM pain. It did not occur to him to think of the mother when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in providing PLEASURE for himself, then. Providing it by satisfying what he believed to be a call of duty.

Y.M. Call it what you please, it is to me a case of AWAKENED CONSCIENCE. That awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of trouble again. A cure like that is a PERMANENT cure.

O.M. Pardon--I had not finished the story. We are creatures of OUTSIDE INFLUENCES--we originate NOTHING within. Whenever we take a new line of thought and drift into a new line of belief and action, the impulse is ALWAYS suggested from the OUTSIDE. Remorse so preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved his harshness toward the boy's religion and made him come to regard it with tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy's sake and the mother's. Finally he found himself examining it. From that moment his progress in his new trend was steady and rapid. He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for having robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He MUST have rest and peace--it is the law of nature. There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote himself to saving imperiled souls. He became a missionary. He landed in a pagan country ill and helpless. A native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to convalescence. Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and the grateful missionary helped her tend him. Here was his first opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his foolish faith in his false gods. He was successful. But the dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said:

"I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST."

And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:

"MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN.

What is Man? and Other Essays of Mark Twain Page 10

Mark Twain

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