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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 282 pages of information about The 30,000 Dollar Bequest and Other Stories.

WAS IT HEAVEN?  OR HELL?

CHAPTER I

“You told a lie?”

“You confess it—­you actually confess it—­you told a lie!”

CHAPTER II

The family consisted of four persons:  Margaret Lester, widow, aged thirty six; Helen Lester, her daughter, aged sixteen; Mrs. Lester’s maiden aunts, Hannah and Hester Gray, twins, aged sixty-seven.  Waking and sleeping, the three women spent their days and night in adoring the young girl; in watching the movements of her sweet spirit in the mirror of her face; in refreshing their souls with the vision of her bloom and beauty; in listening to the music of her voice; in gratefully recognizing how rich and fair for them was the world with this presence in it; in shuddering to think how desolate it would be with this light gone out of it.

By nature—­and inside—­the aged aunts were utterly dear and lovable and good, but in the matter of morals and conduct their training had been so uncompromisingly strict that it had made them exteriorly austere, not to say stern.  Their influence was effective in the house; so effective that the mother and the daughter conformed to its moral and religious requirements cheerfully, contentedly, happily, unquestionably.  To do this was become second nature to them.  And so in this peaceful heaven there were no clashings, no irritations, no fault-finding, no heart-burnings.

In it a lie had no place.  In it a lie was unthinkable.  In it speech was restricted to absolute truth, iron-bound truth, implacable and uncompromising truth, let the resulting consequences be what they might.  At last, one day, under stress of circumstances, the darling of the house sullied her lips with a lie—­and confessed it, with tears and self-upbraidings.  There are not any words that can paint the consternation of the aunts.  It was as if the sky had crumpled up and collapsed and the earth had tumbled to ruin with a crash.  They sat side by side, white and stern, gazing speechless upon the culprit, who was on her knees before them with her face buried first in one lap and then the other, moaning and sobbing, and appealing for sympathy and forgiveness and getting no response, humbly kissing the hand of the one, then of the other, only to see it withdrawn as suffering defilement by those soiled lips.

Twice, at intervals, Aunt Hester said, in frozen amazement: 

“You told a lie?”

Twice, at intervals, Aunt Hannah followed with the muttered and amazed ejaculation: 

“You confess it—­you actually confess it—­you told a lie!”

It was all they could say.  The situation was new, unheard of, incredible; they could not understand it, they did not know how to take hold of it, it approximately paralyzed speech.

At length it was decided that the erring child must be taken to her mother, who was ill, and who ought to know what had happened.  Helen begged, besought, implored that she might be spared this further disgrace, and that her mother might be spared the grief and pain of it; but this could not be:  duty required this sacrifice, duty takes precedence of all things, nothing can absolve one from a duty, with a duty no compromise is possible.

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