“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?”
“You would have slipped out and carried Helen with you—wouldn’t you?”
The ladies were silent.
“What would be your object and intention?”
“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.”