Benefit of the Doubt

I wanted to share an interesting writing technique that might be employed to amuse readers. It’s easier shown than explained, but it’s basically saying something without actually saying it.

As an example, say I’m having a conversation with Judy about Sally, who I think was too cheap to give me a Christmas present. “Hey, Judy, did Sally give you anything for Christmas?” Judy responds, “no.” “Me neither. It must have been a really tough year for her. I mean, I can’t believe she’d be too cheap to buy a couple small presents for us, particularly, when we’ve always been so generous with her, if she wasn’t going through a hard time.”

Here, I’m saying what I really think without quite saying it.

Watch this technique in action in The Young Outlaw; Or, Adrift in the Streets by Horatio Alger, Jr. (1875):

“Deacon—Deacon Hopkins!” she exclaimed.

“What’s the matter?” asked the deacon, drowsily.

“Matter enough. There’s robbers downstairs.”

Now the deacon was broad awake.

“Robbers!” he exclaimed. “Pooh! Nonsense! You’re dreamin’, wife.”

Just then there was another racket. Sam, in trying to effect his escape, tumbled over a chair, and there was a yell of pain.

“Am I dreaming now, deacon?” demanded his wife, triumphantly.

“You’re right, wife,” said the deacon, turning pale, and trembling. “It’s an awful situation. What shall we do?”

“Do? Go downstairs, and confront the villains!” returned his wife, energetically.

“They might shoot me,” said her husband, panic-stricken. “They’re—they’re said to be very desperate fellows.”

“Are you a man, and won’t defend your property?” exclaimed his wife, taunting him, “Do you want me to go down?”

“Perhaps you’d better,” said the deacon, accepting the suggestion with alacrity.

“What!” shrieked Mrs. Hopkins. “You are willing they should shoot me?”

“They wouldn’t shoot a woman,” said the deacon.

But his wife was not appeased.

Just then the unlucky Sam trod on the tail of the cat, who was quietly asleep on the hearth. With the instinct of self-defence, she scratched his leg, which was undefended by the customary clothing, and our hero, who did not feel at all heroic in the dark, not knowing what had got hold of him, roared with pain and fright.

“This is terrible!” gasped the deacon. “Martha, is the door locked?”


“Then I’ll get up and lock it. O Lord, what will become of us?”

Sam was now ascending the stairs, and, though he tried to walk softly, the stairs creaked beneath his weight.

“They’re comin’ upstairs,” exclaimed Mrs. Hopkins. “Lock the door quick, deacon, or we shall be murdered in our bed.”

The deacon reached the door in less time than he would have accomplished the same feat in the daytime, and hurriedly locked it.

“It’s locked, Martha,” he said, “but they may break it down.”

“Or fire through the door—”

“Let’s hide under the bed,” suggested the heroic deacon.

“Don’t speak so loud. They’ll hear. I wish it was mornin’.”

The deacon stood at the door listening, and made a discovery.

“They’re goin up into the garret,” he announced. “That’s strange—”

“What do they want up there, I wonder?”

“They can’t think we’ve got anything valuable up there.”

“Deacon,” burst out Mrs. Hopkins, with a sudden idea, “I believe we’ve been fooled.”

“Fooled! What do you mean?”

“I believe it isn’t robbers.”

“Not robbers? Why, you told me it was,” said her husband, bewildered.

I believe it’s that boy.



“What would he want downstairs?”

“I don’t know, but it’s him, I’ll be bound. Light the lamp, deacon, and go up and see.”

“But it might be robbers,” objected the deacon, in alarm. “They might get hold of me, and kill me.”

“I didn’t think you were such a coward, Mr. Hopkins,” said his wife, contemptuously. When she indulged in severe sarcasm, she was accustomed to omit her husband’s title.

“I aint a coward, but I don’t want to risk my life. It’s a clear flyin’ in the face of Providence. You’d ought to see that it is, Martha,” said the deacon, reproachfully.

“I don’t see it. I see that you are frightened, that’s what I see. Light the lamp, and I’ll go up myself.”

“Well, Martha, it’s better for you to go. They won’t touch a woman.”

He lighted the lamp, and his wife departed on her errand. It might have been an unconscious action on the part of the deacon, but he locked the door after his wife.


Mrs. Hopkins proceeded to the door of Sam’s bed-chamber, and, as the door was unfastened, she entered. Of course he was still awake, but he pretended to be asleep.

“Sam,” said Mrs. Hopkins.

There was a counterfeited snore.


Sam took no notice.

The lady took him by the shoulder, and shook him with no gentle hand, so that our hero was compelled to rouse himself.

“What’s up?” he asked, rubbing his eyes in apparent surprise.

“I am,” said Mrs. Hopkins, shortly, “and you have been.”

“I!” protested Sam, innocently. “Why, I was sound asleep when you came in. I don’t know what’s been goin on. Is it time to get up?”

“What have you been doing downstairs?” demanded Mrs. Hopkins, sternly.

“Who says I’ve been downstairs?” asked Sam.

“I’m sure you have. I heard you.”

“It must have been somebody else.”

“There is no one else to go down. Neither the deacon nor myself has been down.”

“Likely it’s thieves.”

But Mrs. Hopkins felt convinced, from Sam’s manner, that he was the offender, and she determined to make him confess it.

“Get up,” she said, “and go down with me.”

“I’m sleepy,” objected Sam.

“So am I, but I mean to find out all about this matter.”

Sam jumped out of bed, and unwillingly accompanied Mrs. Hopkins downstairs. The latter stopped at her own chamber-door, and tried to open it.

“Who’s there?” asked the deacon, tremulously.

“I am,” said his wife, emphatically.

“So you locked the door on your wife, did you, because you thought there was danger. It does you great credit, upon my word.”

“What have you found out?” asked her husband, evading the reproach. “Was it Sam that made all the noise?”

“How could I,” said Sam, “when I was fast asleep?”

“I’m goin to take him down with me to see what mischief’s done,” said Mrs. Hopkins. “Do you want to go too?”

The deacon, after a little hesitation, followed his more courageous spouse, at a safe distance, however,—and the three entered the kitchen, which had been the scene of Sam’s noisy exploits. It showed traces of his presence in an overturned chair. Moreover, the closet-door was wide open, and broken pieces of crockery were scattered over the floor.”Samuel,” said the deacon, “did you do this wicked thing?”

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