THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

“Didn’t I tell you this patient must be protected from all excitement?

What the hell have you been doing? Clear out of the place?”

They obeyed. Half an hour later he appeared in the parlor,

serene, cheery, clothed in sunshine, conducting Helen, with his

arm about her waist, petting her, and saying gentle and playful

things to her; and she also was her sunny and happy self again.

“Now, then;” he said, “good-by, dear. Go to your room, and keep

away from your mother, and behave yourself. But wait–put out

your tongue. There, that will do–you’re as sound as a nut!”

He patted her cheek and added, “Run along now; I want to talk

to these aunts.”

She went from the presence. His face clouded over again at once;

and as he sat down he said:

“You too have been doing a lot of damage–and maybe some good.

Some good, yes–such as it is. That woman’s disease is typhoid!

You’ve brought it to a show-up, I think, with your insanities,

and that’s a service–such as it is. I hadn’t been able to determine

what it was before.”

With one impulse the old ladies sprang to their feet, quaking with terror.

“Sit down! What are you proposing to do?”

“Do? We must fly to her. We–”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind; you’ve done enough harm for one day.

Do you want to squander all your capital of crimes and follies on a

single deal? Sit down, I tell you. I have arranged for her to sleep;

she needs it; if you disturb her without my orders, I’ll brain you–

if you’ve got the materials for it.

They sat down, distressed and indignant, but obedient, under compulsion.

He proceeded:

“Now, then, I want this case explained. THEY wanted to explain it

to me–as if there hadn’t been emotion or excitement enough already.

You knew my orders; how did you dare to go in there and get up

that riot?”

Hester looked appealing at Hannah; Hannah returned a beseeching look

at Hester–neither wanted to dance to this unsympathetic orchestra.

The doctor came to their help. He said:

“Begin, Hester.”

Fingering at the fringes of her shawl, and with lowered eyes,

Hester said, timidly:

“We should not have disobeyed for any ordinary cause, but this

was vital. This was a duty. With a duty one has no choice;

one must put all lighter considerations aside and perform it.

We were obliged to arraign her before her mother. She had told

a lie.”

The doctor glowered upon the woman a moment, and seemed

to be trying to work up in his mind an understand of a wholly

incomprehensible proposition; then he stormed out:

“She told a lie! DID she? God bless my soul! I tell a million a day!

And so does every doctor. And so does everybody–including you–

for that matter. And THAT was the important thing that authorized

you to venture to disobey my orders and imperil that woman’s life!

Look here, Hester Gray, this is pure lunacy; that girl COULDN’T tell

a lie that was intended to injure a person. The thing is impossible–

absolutely impossible. You know it yourselves–both of you;

you know it perfectly well.”

Hannah came to her sister’s rescue:

“Hester didn’t mean that it was that kind of a lie, and it wasn’t.

But it was a lie.”

“Well, upon my word, I never heard such nonsense! Haven’t you

got sense enough to discriminate between lies! Don’t you know

the difference between a lie that helps and a lie that hurts?”

“ALL lies are sinful,” said Hannah, setting her lips together

like a vise; “all lies are forbidden.”

The Only Christian fidgeted impatiently in his chair. He went to attack

this proposition, but he did not quite know how or where to begin.

Finally he made a venture:

“Hester, wouldn’t you tell a lie to shield a person from an undeserved

injury or shame?”


“Not even a friend?”


“Not even your dearest friend?”

“No. I would not.”

The doctor struggled in silence awhile with this situation;

then he asked:

“Not even to save him from bitter pain and misery and grief?”

“No. Not even to save his life.”

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Categories: Twain, Mark