a phrase whose delicate flattery was music to his ears, and whose
capital T was such an enchanting and vivid object to him that he
could SEE it when it fell out of a person’s mouth even in the dark.
Many who were fond of him stood on their consciences with both feet
and brazenly called him by that large title habitually, because it
was a pleasure to them to do anything that would please him;
and with eager and cordial malice his extensive and diligently
cultivated crop of enemies gilded it, beflowered it, expanded it
to “The ONLY Christian.” Of these two titles, the latter had
the wider currency; the enemy, being greatly in the majority,
attended to that. Whatever the doctor believed, he believed with
all his heart, and would fight for it whenever he got the chance;
and if the intervals between chances grew to be irksomely wide,
he would invent ways of shortening them himself. He was
severely conscientious, according to his rather independent lights,
and whatever he took to be a duty he performed, no matter whether
the judgment of the professional moralists agreed with his own
or not. At sea, in his young days, he had used profanity freely,
but as soon as he was converted he made a rule, which he rigidly stuck
to ever afterward, never to use it except on the rarest occasions,
and then only when duty commanded. He had been a hard drinker at sea,
but after his conversion he became a firm and outspoken teetotaler,
in order to be an example to the young, and from that time forth he
seldom drank; never, indeed, except when it seemed to him to be a duty–
a condition which sometimes occurred a couple of times a year, but never
as many as five times.
Necessarily, such a man is impressionable, impulsive, emotional.
This one was, and had no gift at hiding his feelings; or if he
had it he took no trouble to exercise it. He carried his soul’s
prevailing weather in his face, and when he entered a room
the parasols or the umbrellas went up–figuratively speaking–
according to the indications. When the soft light was in his eye
it meant approval, and delivered a benediction; when he came with a
frown he lowered the temperature ten degrees. He was a well-beloved
man in the house of his friends, but sometimes a dreaded one.
He had a deep affection for the Lester household and its several
members returned this feeling with interest. They mourned over
his kind of Christianity, and he frankly scoffed at theirs;
but both parties went on loving each other just the same.
He was approaching the house–out of the distance; the aunts
and the culprit were moving toward the sick-chamber.
The three last named stood by the bed; the aunts austere,
the transgressor softly sobbing. The mother turned her head
on the pillow; her tired eyes flamed up instantly with sympathy
and passionate mother-love when they fell upon her child,
and she opened the refuge and shelter of her arms.
“Wait!” said Aunt Hannah, and put out her hand and stayed the girl
from leaping into them.
“Helen,” said the other aunt, impressively, “tell your mother all.
Purge your soul; leave nothing unconfessed.”
Standing stricken and forlorn before her judges, the young girl
mourned her sorrowful tale through the end, then in a passion
of appeal cried out:
“Oh, mother, can’t you forgive me? won’t you forgive me?–I am
“Forgive you, my darling? Oh, come to my arms!–there, lay your head
upon my breast, and be at peace. If you had told a thousand lies–”
There was a sound–a warning–the clearing of a throat. The aunts
glanced up, and withered in their clothes–there stood the doctor,
his face a thunder-cloud. Mother and child knew nothing of
his presence; they lay locked together, heart to heart, steeped in
immeasurable content, dead to all things else. The physician
stood many moments glaring and glooming upon the scene before him;
studying it, analyzing it, searching out its genesis; then he put
up his hand and beckoned to the aunts. They came trembling to him,
and stood humbly before him and waited. He bent down and whispered:
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