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

of joy and gratitude gave them.

In the first days, while the child had strength to hold a pencil,

she wrote fond little love-notes to her mother, in which she concealed

her illness; and these the mother read and reread through happy

eyes wet with thankful tears, and kissed them over and over again,

and treasured them as precious things under her pillow.

Then came a day when the strength was gone from the hand, and the

mind wandered, and the tongue babbled pathetic incoherences.

this was a sore dilemma for the poor aunts. There were no love-notes

for the mother. They did not know what to do. Hester began a

carefully studied and plausible explanation, but lost the track of it

and grew confused; suspicion began to show in the mother’s face,

then alarm. Hester saw it, recognized the imminence of the danger,

and descended to the emergency, pulling herself resolutely together

and plucking victor from the open jaws of defeat. In a placid

and convincing voice she said:

“I thought it might distress you to know it, but Helen spent the night

at the Sloanes’. There was a little party there, and, although she

did not want to go, and you so sick, we persuaded her, she being

young and needing the innocent pastimes of youth, and we believing

you would approve. Be sure she will write the moment she comes.”

“How good you are, and how dear and thoughtful for us both!

Approve? Why, I thank you with all my heart. My poor little exile!

Tell her I want her to have every pleasure she can–I would not rob

her of one. Only let her keep her health, that is all I ask.

Don’t let that suffer; I could not bear it. How thankful I am that she

escaped this infection–and what a narrow risk she ran, Aunt Hester!

Think of that lovely face all dulled and burned with fever.

I can’t bear the thought of it. Keep her health. Keep her bloom!

I can see her now, the dainty creature–with the big, blue, earnest eyes;

and sweet, oh, so sweet and gentle and winning! Is she as beautiful

as ever, dear Aunt Hester?”

“Oh, more beautiful and bright and charming than ever she was before,

if such a thing can be”–and Hester turned away and fumbled with

the medicine-bottles, to hide her shame and grief.


After a little, both aunts were laboring upon a difficult and baffling

work in Helen’s chamber. Patiently and earnestly, with their stiff

old fingers, they were trying to forge the required note. They made

failure after failure, but they improved little by little all the time.

The pity of it all, the pathetic humor of it, there was none to see;

they themselves were unconscious of it. Often their tears fell

upon the notes and spoiled them; sometimes a single misformed word

made a note risky which could have been ventured but for that;

but at last Hannah produced one whose script was a good enough

imitation of Helen’s to pass any but a suspicious eye, and bountifully

enriched it with the petting phrases and loving nicknames that

had been familiar on the child’s lips from her nursery days.

She carried it to the mother, who took it with avidity, and kissed it,

and fondled it, reading its precious words over and over again,

and dwelling with deep contentment upon its closing paragraph:

“Mousie darling, if I could only see you, and kiss your eyes,

and feel your arms about me! I am so glad my practicing does not

disturb you. Get well soon. Everybody is good to me, but I am

so lonesome without you, dear mamma.”

“The poor child, I know just how she feels. She cannot be quite

happy without me; and I–oh, I live in the light of her eyes!

Tell her she must practice all she pleases; and, Aunt Hannah–

tell her I can’t hear the piano this far, nor hear dear voice

when she sings: God knows I wish I could. No one knows how sweet

that voice is to me; and to think–some day it will be silent!

What are you crying for?

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Categories: Twain, Mark