contentedly, happily, unquestionably. To do this was become
second nature to them. And so in this peaceful heaven there
were no clashings, no irritations, no fault-finding, no heart-burnings.
In it a lie had no place. In it a lie was unthinkable.
In it speech was restricted to absolute truth, iron-bound truth,
implacable and uncompromising truth, let the resulting consequences
be what they might. At last, one day, under stress of circumstances,
the darling of the house sullied her lips with a lie–and confessed it,
with tears and self-upbraidings. There are not any words that can paint
the consternation of the aunts. It was as if the sky had crumpled
up and collapsed and the earth had tumbled to ruin with a crash.
They sat side by side, white and stern, gazing speechless upon
the culprit, who was on her knees before them with her face
buried first in one lap and then the other, moaning and sobbing,
and appealing for sympathy and forgiveness and getting no response,
humbly kissing the hand of the one, then of the other, only to see
it withdrawn as suffering defilement by those soiled lips.
Twice, at intervals, Aunt Hester said, in frozen amazement:
“You told a LIE?”
Twice, at intervals, Aunt Hannah followed with the muttered
and amazed ejaculation:
“You confess it–you actually confess it–you told a lie!”
It was all they could say. The situation was new, unheard of,
incredible; they could not understand it, they did not know
how to take hold of it, it approximately paralyzed speech.
At length it was decided that the erring child must be taken to
her mother, who was ill, and who ought to know what had happened.
Helen begged, besought, implored that she might be spared this
further disgrace, and that her mother might be spared the grief
and pain of it; but this could not be: duty required this sacrifice,
duty takes precedence of all things, nothing can absolve one from
a duty, with a duty no compromise is possible.
Helen still begged, and said the sin was her own, her mother had
had no hand in it–why must she be made to suffer for it?
But the aunts were obdurate in their righteousness, and said the
law that visited the sins of the parent upon the child was by all
right and reason reversible; and therefore it was but just that the
innocent mother of a sinning child should suffer her rightful share
of the grief and pain and shame which were the allotted wages of the sin.
The three moved toward the sick-room.
At this time the doctor was approaching the house. He was still
a good distance away, however. He was a good doctor and a good man,
and he had a good heart, but one had to know him a year to get
over hating him, two years to learn to endure him, three to learn
to like him, and four and five to learn to live him. It was a slow
and trying education, but it paid. He was of great stature; he had
a leonine head, a leonine face, a rough voice, and an eye which was
sometimes a pirate’s and sometimes a woman’s, according to the mood.
He knew nothing about etiquette, and cared nothing about it; in speech,
manner, carriage, and conduct he was the reverse of conventional.
He was frank, to the limit; he had opinions on all subjects; they were
always on tap and ready for delivery, and he cared not a farthing
whether his listener liked them or didn’t. Whom he loved he loved,
and manifested it; whom he didn’t live he hated, and published
it from the housetops. In his young days he had been a sailor,
and the salt-airs of all the seas blew from him yet. He was a sturdy
and loyal Christian, and believed he was the best one in the land,
and the only one whose Christianity was perfectly sound, healthy,
full-charged with common sense, and had no decayed places in it.
People who had an ax to grind, or people who for any reason wanted
wanted to get on the soft side of him, called him The Christian–
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