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

Another pause. Then:

“Nor his soul?”

There was a hush–a silence which endured a measurable interval–

then Hester answered, in a low voice, but with decision:

“Nor his soul?”

No one spoke for a while; then the doctor said:

“Is it with you the same, Hannah?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“I ask you both–why?”

“Because to tell such a lie, or any lie, is a sin, and could cost

us the loss of our own souls–WOULD, indeed, if we died without

time to repent.”

“Strange . . . strange . . . it is past belief.” Then he

asked, roughly: “Is such a soul as that WORTH saving?”

He rose up, mumbling and grumbling, and started for the door,

stumping vigorously along. At the threshold he turned and rasped

out an admonition: “Reform! Drop this mean and sordid and selfish

devotion to the saving of your shabby little souls, and hunt up

something to do that’s got some dignity to it! RISK your souls! risk

them in good causes; then if you lose them, why should you care? Reform!”

The good old gentlewomen sat paralyzed, pulverized, outraged, insulted,

and brooded in bitterness and indignation over these blasphemies.

They were hurt to the heart, poor old ladies, and said they could

never forgive these injuries.


They kept repeating that word resentfully. “Reform–and learn

to tell lies!”

Time slipped along, and in due course a change came over their spirits.

They had completed the human being’s first duty–which is to think

about himself until he has exhausted the subject, then he is in a

condition to take up minor interests and think of other people.

This changes the complexion of his spirits–generally wholesomely.

The minds of the two old ladies reverted to their beloved niece

and the fearful disease which had smitten her; instantly they forgot

the hurts their self-love had received, and a passionate desire

rose in their hearts to go to the help of the sufferer and comfort

her with their love, and minister to her, and labor for her the best

they could with their weak hands, and joyfully and affectionately

wear out their poor old bodies in her dear service if only they might

have the privilege.

“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,

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Categories: Twain, Mark