“Ah, how soon you will fall! In fact, you have fallen already;
for what you have just uttered is a lie. Good-by. Reform!
One of you go to the sick-room now.”
Twelve days later.
Mother and child were lingering in the grip of the hideous disease.
Of hope for either there was little. The aged sisters looked white
and worn, but they would not give up their posts. Their hearts
were breaking, poor old things, but their grit was steadfast
and indestructible. All the twelve days the mother had pined for
the child, and the child for the mother, but both knew that the prayer
of these longings could not be granted. When the mother was told–
on the first day–that her disease was typhoid, she was frightened,
and asked if there was danger that Helen could have contracted it the
day before, when she was in the sick-chamber on that confession visit.
Hester told her the doctor had poo-pooed the idea. It troubled
Hester to say it, although it was true, for she had not believed
the doctor; but when she saw the mother’s joy in the news, the pain
in her conscience lost something of its force–a result which made
her ashamed of the constructive deception which she had practiced,
though not ashamed enough to make her distinctly and definitely
wish she had refrained from it. From that moment the sick woman
understood that her daughter must remain away, and she said she would
reconcile herself to the separation the best she could, for she
would rather suffer death than have her child’s health imperiled.
That afternoon Helen had to take to her bed, ill. She grew worse
during the night. In the morning her mother asked after her:
“Is she well?”
Hester turned cold; she opened her lips, but the words refused to come.
The mother lay languidly looking, musing, waiting; suddenly she
turned white and gasped out:
“Oh, my God! what is it? is she sick?”
Then the poor aunt’s tortured heart rose in rebellion, and words came:
“No–be comforted; she is well.”
The sick woman put all her happy heart in her gratitude:
“Thank God for those dear words! Kiss me. How I worship you
for saying them!”
Hester told this incident to Hannah, who received it with
a rebuking look, and said, coldly:
“Sister, it was a lie.”
Hester’s lips trembled piteously; she choked down a sob, and said:
“Oh, Hannah, it was a sin, but I could not help it. I could not
endure the fright and the misery that were in her face.”
“No matter. It was a lie. God will hold you to account for it.”
“Oh, I know it, I know it,” cried Hester, wringing her hands,
“but even if it were now, I could not help it. I know I should do
“Then take my place with Helen in the morning. I will make
the report myself.”
Hester clung to her sister, begging and imploring.
“Don’t, Hannah, oh, don’t–you will kill her.”
“I will at least speak the truth.”
In the morning she had a cruel report to bear to the mother,
and she braced herself for the trial. When she returned from
her mission, Hester was waiting, pale and trembling, in the hall.
“Oh, how did she take it–that poor, desolate mother?”
Hannah’s eyes were swimming in tears. She said:
“God forgive me, I told her the child was well!”
Hester gathered her to her heart, with a grateful “God bless you, Hannah!”
and poured out her thankfulness in an inundation of worshiping praises.
After that, the two knew the limit of their strength, and accepted
their fate. They surrendered humbly, and abandoned themselves to the
hard requirements of the situation. Daily they told the morning lie,
and confessed their sin in prayer; not asking forgiveness, as not
being worthy of it, but only wishing to make record that they
realized their wickedness and were not desiring to hide it or excuse it.
Daily, as the fair young idol of the house sank lower and lower,
the sorrowful old aunts painted her glowing bloom and her fresh young
beauty to the wan mother, and winced under the stabs her ecstasies
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