Veronica And Other Friends by Johanna Spyri
Chapter VI. Lame Sabina Gives Good Advice.
Veronica's teacher, Sabina, had been a hunchback from her birth, and had become lame when still young; she had used crutches since she was twenty years old. Like many persons who suffer under physical disabilities, she had clever penetrating eyes, and on this day, she often raised them from the work which she was pursuing with indefatigable industry, to glance at her pupil, who sat opposite. Veronica was at work on the same piece which she had had at home on the previous night, that night which she had passed in such sad forbodings.
After many inquiring glances, Sabina at last said thoughtfully:
"I'm puzzled about you, Veronica. That piece of work you are upon, is wonderfully well done; every stitch is perfectly even, the cloth and the silk are as white as snow; yet you must have done most of it at night, for yesterday afternoon you were not nearly so far along. Whatever you put your hand to, succeeds. Yet your eyebrows grow more and more scowling every day, and your eyes blaze out as if there were a thunder-storm about. What ails you, child? You are the handsomest girl in all the country round when you have a pleasant expression; and you are as tall and straight as a young fir-tree. Don't you know that?"
"What good does it do me?" asked Veronica, and scowled worse than ever.
"What good? if you did not have it you would know what it is worth," replied Sabina, quickly. "I can tell you that. Now smooth your forehead, Veronica, and listen to me. I will tell you something that will make you feel better and happier. An Industrial School has been established in Fohrensee and it is proposed to connect with it a work-room for women. They want a teacher and superintendent, and have offered me the place, but I am not strong enough for it. I have told them that you are fully equal to me in skill and knowledge of the work, and a hundred times my superior in freshness and strength and executive ability. There is no doubt that the place is at your disposal. You can lead the life of a lady, Veronica. Your fortune is made."
For the first time since Sabina began to speak, Veronica raised her eyes from her work. She shook her head sadly and said,
"Not my fortune."
"'Not my fortune!'" repeated Sabina angrily, "when I tell you this place is yours! Your fortune is made."
"I cannot grasp the fortune that is offered me," said the girl, and bent over her work again.
Sabina's searching glance seemed to try to penetrate her inmost thought.
"What sort of an expression is that you are using, Veronica? Where did you learn that? I never expected to hear such words from your lips. It is not like you. What put that into your head, child?"
"I will tell you something of my experience, and then you will understand why I use this expression," said Veronica quietly. "When I was only a little girl I learned a motto which ran thus:
'Fortune stands ready, full in sight; He wins, who knows to grasp it right.'
I saw that 'fortune' was something good to have, and I wanted to find out how it could be grasped. I asked Cousin Judith, and she told me it must be grasped like everything else with our hands, that is to say, through work. From that time forward I was eager for work as other children are for play, and the older I grow, the more I strive for the good fortune that can be grasped by work. Even on Sundays I often go to my room to sew, and I shut my door, for my mother does not like to see me sew then. I work on and on, just as long as I can sit at it, even into the night; sometimes till one and two o'clock in the morning; yet I do not find the fortune I want. When my hands are busy, my thoughts wander where they will, and I must follow them. But they do not lead to 'fortune,' but only farther away from it. This offer may bring me a fortune in money and position, but that is not the fortune I want. 'Fortune' for me, means happiness."
Sabina had not lost a word of this sad story.
"Yes, yes, I understand you, Veronica," she said sympathizingly. "I know something of this too. Judith told you the truth, but only one half the truth. Fortune is grasped by the hands, it is true; but the Fortune which you long for, that is, Happiness, is to be gained in other ways besides. I will tell you an instructive little story, and if you will take the trouble to grasp it, not with your hands, but with your thoughts and understanding, you will be able to work it out for yourself and get some profit from it. It is part of the story of my own life. I have had so much the same experience as yours that I cannot help hoping that what I found good for myself, may prove good for you."
"When I was about your age, Veronica, I was so unhappy that I cried myself to sleep every night. Can you guess why? No, for one understands only the sufferings that he has himself experienced, and cannot imagine those of others. Well, it was because I was a hunchback! I remember as if it were yesterday, when I first came to a perception of my misfortune; when I first learned that I was different from other children, and must remain as one apart, all my life. We were all coming out of school one day, and a little quarrel arose between us children, and one of them said to me in a scornful tone, 'Hold your tongue, Sabina, you're only a hunchback.' From that day I never knew a happy moment, and I grew timid and avoided every one; if I saw any one looking at me, I thought he was scoffing at me because I was a hunchback. I kept away from other children, for if one of them laughed, I fancied she was laughing at my deformed shoulders. If any stranger was kind to me, I thought that it was because my hunch had not yet been seen, and that as soon as it was, kindness would be changed for contempt. I looked at the figure of every one I met; all were straight except myself. I felt that I was the most miserable creature in the world, and I saw no hope of ever being otherwise all my life long. Once one of the school children died, and all her schoolmates walked in the funeral procession to the church. I would not walk with them, but hid myself among the grown people; for every one was looking at the children and I wanted to escape observation. I heard one woman say to another: 'It is lucky the child's mother has so much to do; she will have no time to think about her sorrow, and she will get over it the sooner,' Then it came to me like a ray of hope, that if I had work to do, I might forget my sorrow too. I must have work. That very day I begged my mother to let me learn to work. She was pleased, and sent me to take lessons in sewing, and I followed it up till I could do all sorts of fine work, and had as much employment as I could wish. I often heard people say, 'How finely Sabina is getting on!' But how do you think it was with my spirits? Just as it is with yours now, Veronica. Oh yes, you needn't look at me so with your great eyes. I know exactly what you are thinking. You think that my trouble never can have been equal to yours. People always think that their own sorrows are the worst. I sat and sewed just as you do--early and late; my work was perfect; I had no rival. I knew that it was good, and I rejoiced over it in a half-hearted way; but what good did it do me after all? The thought that I was a hunchback, was always in my mind. It was like a stream of troubled water flowing through my heart; it spoiled everything. 'Always deformed, never like other girls,' I never forgot it for a moment. So it went on till I was about twenty years old, and then came on the trouble in my foot, and I was confined to my bed for many months. Oh! how bitterly I suffered! Was every misfortune to fall on me alone?' I thought. How could I foresee that this very trouble would turn out to be good fortune for me?"
"The doctor came to see me constantly; he took as much interest in my case as if I could have paid him handsomely.
He noticed that I was industrious, that I did not lie idle even when I was in great pain. It pleased him to find me always with work in my hand. When at last the acute attack was over, and the doctor told me that this would be his last visit, he told me also that I was lame for life. At first I could not walk at all; but bye and bye I learned to use my crutches. When I offered the doctor the money that was due him for his attendance, he said we would not speak of that; that we both had to work, but with this difference, that he was sound and whole, while I was not. He took my hand kindly, saying that it was hard for me not to be able to take any amusement after working hard all the week; not to go out with the others on Sunday; and that if I cared for reading, his wife had a great many nice books which she would be glad to lend me, and they would make the Sundays less tedious. I did not really care for reading; I preferred sewing as you do, but I accepted the doctor's offer and went to his house. His wife was very kind and gave me a book at once, bidding me come as soon as I had finished it and get another. I began to read the very next Sunday, and I became so deeply interested that I scarcely laid the book down all day, and even during the week I took it up as often as I could find a spare moment. It was an account of foreign countries and nations; how they lived, and their manners and customs. I was particularly interested to read about how the women were treated in different places; how in some countries they are sold and bartered for cattle or wool or cloth, and how they belong to their husbands just as if they were furniture, and their husbands can treat them just as they please, as we do cats or dogs. And in some places, it said, a wife has to be burned when her husband dies, because she is only a part of him and has no value of her own after his death. Oh! how many strange things there are in the world, to be sure! I became hungry and thirsty for knowledge. The doctor's wife lent me one book after another, and in each there was something new and wonderful. I learned how terrible the condition of women had been everywhere until our own Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, and taught that one soul was as much worth as another, all equal, man and woman, lord and servant; that every individual must be free, one as well as another; and that two people should be joined together only by love, and not as a matter of ownership. But even now-a-days there are still countries and islands where men make nothing of killing and eating each other, and the women are bought and sold like goods. It is only where the influence of Christianity has penetrated, that there is true equality of womanhood. You can imagine the flood of new ideas that crowded in upon me as I read, and I assure you that I was able to forget sometimes for many days that I was a hunchback, and when I did remember it, the thought had lost its sting. I dwelt upon the many privations and sufferings of others, till they seemed to outweigh my own trouble so that it dwindled in my estimation; and gradually I began to see the good side of my lot. How independently I could live supporting myself; what a wealth of interest was opened to me through my reading, and in fact how fortunate I was, and blessed beyond many another! Yes, Veronica, I can assure you that I am now a happy woman, with a heart filled with gratitude to the good God for the blessings he has sent me. And so I say to you, my child, from the fulness of my own experience, that you have no right to go about looking like a thunder-cloud; you with all the freshness and beauty of your young life!
Tell me do you owe our Lord God something or is He in debt to you? Have you nothing to thank him for? Others can see how much you have to look forward to. Get yourself together, girl, and try to give your thoughts another direction."
"I should be only too glad to do so," said Veronica, who had listened intently to every word that Sabina had said. "Have you any such book as you describe, that you can lend me to read?"
Sabina was well pleased at this request. She had a book close at hand, which she had just finished reading, and from which she expected great things for the young girl. Veronica was moved by Sabina's glowing words, to believe that her future might be happier, and that the clouds of despondency which had overshadowed her, were about to be dispersed.
She lost no time, for she was in earnest. She opened the book that very evening, and began to read. But her sanguine expectations were not fulfilled. She read the words, she understood their meaning; but it was as if she heard them at a distance and through them all, louder than all else, sounded something in her ears and in her heart that drowned them. It was the flow of the troubled waters, as Sabina had said. The waves rose higher; their noise increased, until Veronica lost all hearing and understanding of what she was reading. Still she persevered; perhaps bye-and-bye it would come right. Alas! was not that the house door opening and shutting again so softly late in the night? She flung the book aside; walked rapidly back and forth in her chamber for awhile, then unfolded her sewing, and worked steadily on and on, until the morning broke and a new day called her to its duties.