"And we shall have it!" said Hester, with the tears running down her face. "There are no nurses comparable to us, for there are no others that will stand their watch by that bed till they drop and die, and God knows we would do that."
"Amen," said Hannah, smiling approval and endorsement through the mist of moisture that blurred her glasses. "The doctor knows us, and knows we will not disobey again; and he will call no others. He will not dare!"
"Dare?" said Hester, with temper, and dashing the water from her eyes; "he will dare anything--that Christian devil! But it will do no good for him to try it this time--but, laws! Hannah! after all's said and done, he is gifted and wise and good, and he would not think of such a thing. . . . It is surely time for one of us to go to that room. What is keeping him? Why doesn't he come and say so?"
They caught the sound of his approaching step. He entered, sat down, and began to talk.
"Margaret is a sick woman," he said. "She is still sleeping, but she will wake presently; then one of you must go to her. She will be worse before she is better. Pretty soon a night-and-day watch must be set. How much of it can you two undertake?"
"All of it!" burst from both ladies at once.
The doctor's eyes flashed, and he said, with energy:
"You DO ring true, you brave old relics! And you SHALL do all of the nursing you can, for there's none to match you in that divine office in this town; but you can't do all of it, and it would be a crime to let you." It was grand praise, golden praise, coming from such a source, and it took nearly all the resentment out of the aged twin's hearts. "Your Tilly and my old Nancy shall do the rest--good nurses both, white souls with black skins, watchful, loving, tender--just perfect nurses!--and competent liars from the cradle. . . . Look you! keep a little watch on Helen; she is sick, and is going to be sicker."
The ladies looked a little surprised, and not credulous; and Hester said:
"How is that? It isn't an hour since you said she was as sound as a nut."
The doctor answered, tranquilly:
"It was a lie."
The ladies turned upon him indignantly, and Hannah said:
"How can you make an odious confession like that, in so indifferent a tone, when you know how we feel about all forms of--"
"Hush! You are as ignorant as cats, both of you, and you don't know what you are talking about. You are like all the rest of the moral moles; you lie from morning till night, but because you don't do it with your mouths, but only with your lying eyes, your lying inflections, your deceptively misplaced emphasis, and your misleading gestures, you turn up your complacent noses and parade before God and the world as saintly and unsmirched Truth-Speakers, in whose cold-storage souls a lie would freeze to death if it got there! Why will you humbug yourselves with that foolish notion that no lie is a lie except a spoken one? What is the difference between lying with your eyes and lying with your mouth? There is none; and if you would reflect a moment you would see that it is so. There isn't a human being that doesn't tell a gross of lies every day of his life; and you--why, between you, you tell thirty thousand; yet you flare up here in a lurid hypocritical horror because I tell that child a benevolent and sinless lie to protect her from her imagination, which would get to work and warm up her blood to a fever in an hour, if I were disloyal enough to my duty to let it. Which I should probably do if I were interested in saving my soul by such disreputable means.
"Come, let us reason together. Let us examine details. When you two were in the sick-room raising that riot, what would you have done if you had known I was coming?"
"You would have slipped out and carried Helen with you--wouldn't you?"
The ladies were silent.
"What would be your object and intention?"
"To keep me from finding out your guilt; to beguile me to infer that Margaret's excitement proceeded from some cause not known to you. In a word, to tell me a lie--a silent lie.