What One Lie Did by Unknown

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It was winter twilight. Shadows played about the room, while the ruddy light flickered pleasantly between the ancient andirons.

A venerable old lady, whose hair time had silvered, but whose heart he had left fresh and young, sat musing in an armchair, drawn up closely by the fireside. Suddenly the door opened, and a little girl hurried to her side.

"Well, Bessie," said the old lady, laying her hand lovingly on the child's sunny ringlets, "have you had a good slide?"

"Beautiful, Aunt Ruth; and now won't you tell me one of your nice stories?"

Bessie was an only child, whose mother had just died. The little girl had come to visit her aunt, who had learned to love her dearly because of her winning ways and affectionate disposition.

But Aunt Ruth's eyes were of the clear sort, and she soon discovered that Bessie was not only careless about telling the truth, but that she displayed little sensitiveness when detected in a falsehood.

[Illustration: <i>The Spelling Class</i>]

Now, if there was any one trait for which Aunt Ruth was particularly distinguished, it was her unswerving truthfulness; and if there was any one thing that annoyed her more than all others, it was anything like falsehood.

"A liar shall not stand in my sight," was the language of her heart, and so she determined, with the help of God, to root out from her darling's character the noxious weed, whatever effort it might cost her. Of this she had been musing, and her resolve was formed.

"Get your rocking-chair, dear, and come close beside me;" and in a moment the child's blue eyes were upturned to hers.

"I am old now, Bessie," and she tenderly stroked that fair brow, "and my memory is failing. But I can recall the time when I was a little dancing, sunny-haired girl, like you. You open your eyes wonderingly, but, if your life is spared, before you know it, child, you will be an old lady like Aunt Ruth.

"In those young days I was in a spelling-class, at school, with a little girl named Amy, a sweet-tempered, sensitive child, and a very good scholar. She seemed disposed to cling to me, and I could not well resist her loving friendship. Yet I did not quite like her, because she often went above me in the class, when, but for her, I should have stood at the head.

"Poor Amy could not account for my occasional coolness, for I was too proud to let her know the reason. I had been a truthful child, Bessie, but envy tempted me, and I yielded. I sometimes tried to prejudice the other girls against Amy, and this was the beginning of my deceit. She was too timid to defend herself, and so I usually carried my point.

"One day our teacher gave out to us the word, believe. In her usual low voice, Amy spelt 'b-e-l-i-e-v-e, believe.' Her teacher misunderstanding her said, quickly, 'Wrong—the next;' but turning to her again, asked, 'Did you not spell it l-e-i-v-e?'

"'No ma'am, I said l-i-e-v-e,'

"Miss R——, still in doubt, looking at me, inquired, 'You heard, Ruth; how was it?'

"A wicked thought occurred to me,—to disgrace her, and raise myself. Deliberately I uttered a gross falsehood, 'Amy said l-e-i-v-e,'

"The teacher turned toward Amy, who stood, silent, distressed and confounded by my accusation. Her flushed face and streaming eyes gave her the appearance of guilt.

"'Amy,' said her teacher sternly, 'I did not expect a lie from you. Go, now, to the foot of the class, and remember to remain after school.'

"I had triumphed, Bessie; Amy was disgraced, and I stood proudly at the head of my class, but I was not happy.

"When school was dismissed, I pretended to have lost something, and lingered in the hall. I heard the teacher say,—

"'Amy, come here,' and then I caught the light footsteps of the gentle child.

"'How could you tell that lie?'

"'Miss R—- I did not tell a lie,' but even as she denied it, I could see through the keyhole that in her grief at the charge, and her dread of punishment, she stood trembling like a culprit.

"'Hold out your hand.'

"There I stood, as if spellbound. Stroke after stroke of the hard ferule I heard fall upon the small white hand of the innocent child. You may well hide your eyes from me, Bessie. Oh, why did I not speak? Every stroke went to my heart, but I would not confess my sin, and so I stole softly from the door.

[Illustration: <i>"Miss R—- I did not tell a lie."</i>]

"As I lingered on the way, Amy walked slowly along, with her books in one hand, while with the other she kept wiping away the tears, which would not yet cease to flow. Her sobs, seeming to come from a breaking heart, sank deep into my own.

"As she walked on, weeping, her foot stumbled, and she fell, and her books were scattered on the ground. I picked them up and handed them to her. Turning toward me her soft blue eyes swimming in tears, in the sweetest tones, she said,—

"'I thank you, Ruth.'

"It made my guilty heart beat faster, but I would not speak; so we went on silently together.

"When I reached home, I said to myself, 'what is the use, nobody knows it, and why should I be so miserable?' I resolved to throw off the hated burden, and, going into the pleasant parlor, I talked and laughed as if nothing were the matter. But the load on my poor heart only grew the heavier.

"I needed no one, Bessie, to reprove me for my cruel sin. The eye of God seemed consuming me. But the worse I felt, the gayer I seemed; and more than once I was checked for my boisterous mirth, while tears were struggling to escape.

"At length I went to my room. I could not pray, and so hurrying to bed, I resolutely shut my eyes. But sleep would not come to me. The ticking of the old clock in the hall seemed every moment to grow louder, as if reproaching me; and when it slowly told the hour of midnight, it smote upon my ear like a knell.

"I turned and turned upon my little pillow, but it was filled with thorns. Those sweet blue eyes, swimming in tears, were ever before me; the repeated strokes of the hard ferule kept sounding in my ears. At length, unable to endure it longer I left my bed, and sat down by the window. The noble elms stood peacefully in the moonlight, the penciled shadow of their spreading branches lying tremulously on the ground.

"The white fence, the graveled walks, the perfect quietness in which everything was wrapped, seemed to mock my restlessness, while the solemn midnight sky filled me with a sense of awe which I never felt before. Ah! Bessie, God was displeased with me, my conscience was burdened and uneasy, and I was wretched.

"As I turned from the window, my eyes rested on the snow-white coverlet of my little bed, a birthday gift from my mother. All her patient kindness, rushed upon my mind. I felt her dying hand upon my head. I listened once more to her trembling voice, as she fervently besought the blessing of heaven upon me:—

"'Oh, make her a truthful, holy child!'

"I tried to banish from my thoughts this last petition of my dying mother; but the more resolute was my purpose, the more distinctly did those pleading tones fall upon my heart, till, bowing upon the window, I wept convulsively. But tears, Bessie, could give me no relief.

"My agony became every moment more intense, till at length, I rushed, almost in terror, to my father's bedside.

"'Father! father!' but I could say no more. Tenderly putting his arm around me, he laid my throbbing head upon his bosom; and there he gently soothed me, till I could so far control my sobbing, as to explain its cause. Then how fervently did he plead with, heaven, that his sinning child might be forgiven!

"'Dear father,' said I, 'will you go with me to-night to see poor Amy?'

"He answered, 'To-morrow morning, my child.'

[Illustration: "Dear Father, will you go with me to-night to see poor
Amy?"]

"Delay was torture; but striving to suppress my disappointment, I received my father's kiss and went back to my room. But slumber still fled from my weary eyelids.

"My longing to beg Amy's forgiveness amounted to frenzy; and after watching for the morning, for what seemed to me hours, my anguish became so intolerable that I fled once more to my father, and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I knelt by his side, beseeching him to go with me to Amy that moment; adding, in a whisper, 'She may die before she has forgiven me.' He laid his hand upon my burning cheek, and after a moment's thought, replied,

"'I will go with you, my child.'

"In a few moments we were on our way. As we approached Mrs. Sinclair's cottage, we perceived lights hurrying from one room to another. Shuddering with dread, I drew closer to my father. He softly opened the gate, and silently we passed through it.

"The doctor, who was just leaving the door, seemed greatly surprised to meet us there at that hour. Words cannot describe my feelings, when in answer to my father's inquiries, he told us that Amy was sick with brain fever.

"'Her mother tells me,' he continued, 'that she has not been well for several days, but that she was unwilling to remain from school. She came home yesterday afternoon, it seems, very unlike herself. She took no supper, but sat at the table silently, as if stupefied with grief.

"'Her mother tried every way to find out the cause of her sorrow; but in vain. She went to bed with the same heart-broken appearance, and in less than an hour, I was summoned. In her delirium she has been calling upon her dear Ruth, beseeching you with the most mournful earnestness to pity and to save her.'

"Bessie, may you never know how his words pierced my heart!

"My earnest plea to see Amy just one minute, prevailed with her widowed mother. Kindly taking my hand—the murderer's—she led me to the sick chamber. As I looked on the sweet sufferer, all hope deserted me. The shadows of death were already on her forehead and her large blue eyes.

"Kneeling by her bed, in whispered words my heart pleaded, oh, so earnestly, for forgiveness. But, when I looked entreatingly toward her, in her delirious gaze there was no recognition. No, Bessie, I was never to be comforted by the assurance of her pardon.

"When I next saw Amy, she was asleep. The bright flush had faded from her cheek, whose marble paleness was shaded by her long eyelashes. Delirium had ceased, and the aching heart was still. That small, white hand, which had been held out tremblingly, to receive the blows of the harsh ferule, now lay lovingly folded within the other. Never again would tears flow from those gentle eyes, nor that bosom heave with sorrow. That sleep was the sleep of death!

"My grief was wilder, if not deeper, than that mother's of whose lost treasure I had robbed her. She forgave me; but I could not forgive myself. What a long, long winter followed. My sufferings threw me into a fever, and in my delirium I called continually upon Amy.

"But God listened to the prayers of my dear father, and raised me from this sickness. And when the light footsteps of spring were seen upon the green earth, and early flowers were springing up around the grave of Amy, for the first time, I was allowed to visit it.

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"My head swam, as I read, lettered so carefully on the white tablet:—

"'AMY SINCLAIR, Fell asleep September third.'

"Beside that fresh turf I knelt down, and offered, as I trust, the prayer of faith. I was there relieved, and strengthened too, Bessie," said Aunt Ruth, as she laid her hand tenderly upon that young head bowed down upon her lap.

Poor Bessie's tears had long been flowing, and now her grief seemed uncontrollable. Nor did her aunt attempt consolation; for she hoped there was a healing in that sorrow.

"Pray for me!" whispered Bessie, as, at length, looking up through her tears, she flung her arms about her aunt; and from a full heart Aunt Ruth prayed for the weeping child.

That scene was never forgotten by Bessie; for in that twilight hour, a light dawned upon her, brighter than the morning. And, although it had cost Aunt Ruth not a little to call up this dark shadow from the past, yet she felt repaid a thousandfold for her sacrifice. For that sweet young face, lovely as a May morning, but whose beauty had been often marred by the workings of deceit and falsehood, grew radiant in the clear light of that truthful purpose which was then born in her soul.

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