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

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?”

“Well, what?”

“You would have slipped out and carried Helen with you–wouldn’t you?”

The ladies were silent.

“What would be your object and intention?”

“Well, what?”

“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. Moreover, a possibly

harmful one.”

The twins colored, but did not speak.

“You not only tell myriads of silent lies, but you tell lies

with your mouths–you two.”

“THAT is not so!”

“It is so. But only harmless ones. You never dream of uttering

a harmful one. Do you know that that is a concession–and a confession?”

“How do you mean?”

“It is an unconscious concession that harmless lies are not criminal;

it is a confession that you constantly MAKE that discrimination.

For instance, you declined old Mrs. Foster’s invitation last week

to meet those odious Higbies at supper–in a polite note in which you

expressed regret and said you were very sorry you could not go.

It was a lie. It was as unmitigated a lie as was ever uttered.

Deny it, Hester–with another lie.”

Hester replied with a toss of her head.

“That will not do. Answer. Was it a lie, or wasn’t it?”

The color stole into the cheeks of both women, and with a struggle

and an effort they got out their confession:

“It was a lie.”

“Good–the reform is beginning; there is hope for you yet;

you will not tell a lie to save your dearest friend’s soul, but you

will spew out one without a scruple to save yourself the discomfort

of telling an unpleasant truth.”

He rose. Hester, speaking for both, said; coldly:

“We have lied; we perceive it; it will occur no more. To lie is

a sin. We shall never tell another one of any kind whatsoever,

even lies of courtesy or benevolence, to save any one a pang

or a sorrow decreed for him by God.”

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Categories: Twain, Mark