What One Lie Did by Unknown
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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"'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.
"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
"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.'
"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
"'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.
"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.