The darkest point in my high school life was the mathematics teacher, Gadebsky. I name him here by his real name, perhaps from a feeling of revenge. He, rather than my crippled state, was the source of most of my troubles.
Gadebsky was so powerful in his malevolence that he sometimes seemed to take away all light from my days. It was he who compelled me for the first time to brood upon a question to which I have not yet found an answer: ‘Does evil belong to the world-plan of God?’
The name Gadebsky comes from the word, ‘gadky,’ which means ‘loathsome.’ He was of middle height, dark, solid, and black-haired. Black whiskers, sallow face, in which two small, malicious eyes burned. Lonnie Weiser had such fear of him that once when he called her to the blackboard she fell down in a faint. While the other pupils were carrying her out, Gadebsky gave a diabolic grin.
—The young lady thinks, he said, that her hysteria will save her from a bad mark; but oh! how mistaken she is!
Then, hissing through his teeth, he wrote the bad mark in his book.
—That mark, he said, stays here as firmly as a nail on the finger.
In my first examination I had had the best possible report. But it was usual, in the course of the term, for the teacher to call each pupil out to the blackboard to work out a problem before the class. How, I wondered, would I be able to do that in my crippled state? This question gave me many a sleepless night, but I dared not speak about it. Only, every evening I prayed:
—Dear God, if Gadebsky calls me out, give me, just for this one day, the magic power to walk to the blackboard.
I believe in miracles; miracles used to happen — once anyhow: why couldn’t one happen today
—Just once, dear God, I prayed, and I’ll be grateful all my life.
I knew this prayer was meaningless, but I couldn’t help it.
Now comes one of the most dreadful days of my life. Gadebsky calls me up. Dead silence. The whole class holds its breath; no one dares to say a word.
—I will not faint like Lonnie Weiser, I told myself. No, that I won’t!
But I knew how a dying person must feel.
Then Rosa Revid had the courage to stand up and speak. Rosa was a small, dainty girl with the curly hair of her race. In her face was a remarkable contradiction. She had the touching round eyes of a small girl, an undeveloped child-mouth, and dimples in the childishly-rounded cheeks; but this small-girl face was surmounted by a high, powerful forehead, the seat of a masculine intellect. I heard her voice, as from a great distance, as she said in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone:
—Piotr Ivanovitch, Amata Egle cannot walk, but she can work out any problem you set her, sitting at her desk.
—Do you mean that she can do that? Gadebsky challenged.
—Certainly, Rosa answered unperturbed, and added in explanation:
—Piotr Ivanovitch. Please dictate the problem to her and Egle can take it down, not on the board but on a sheet of paper. That’s just the same thing.
Rosa was able to risk this unexampled piece of daring because she was the best in the whole class at mathematics. For both of us mathematical problems were an invigorating sport. With face and eyes burning she sat down in her place.
The whole class looked at her in admiration.
Gadebsky did dictate the exercise, and I worked it out. For the first moment I was too flustered to comprehend anything; the equations turned themselves round in circles before my eyes. But I dared not disappoint the class whose pride I was.
I was soon finished and raised my hand to inform the grim Cyclops that it was ready. He refused to see it; he expressed his bad feeling by taking no notice. I let my hand fall and after awhile, raised it again. Again he took no notice. One of the girls was so affected by this that, although she was good at mathematics, she gave a wrong answer and got a bad mark.
Then Rosa did what no one before her and no one after her in our class, and indeed in the whole High School, had ever done. She stood up and, taking from me the completed problem, gave it a quick, comprehensive glance, nodded to me reassuringly, and, marching out, laid it on the Cyclops’ desk.
Again there was dead silence in the whole class. Gadebsky raised his short-sighted eyes from the class-book and looked at Rosa threateningly. His face was twisted into a grimace, but before he could open his mouth Rosa said:
—I have brought you Egle’s algebra problem.
—Who said you could do that? he thundered. Who …?
His voice trembled with anger. I felt my heart stop beating. I don’t know what would have happened if Rosa at this moment had lost her presence of mind; but with a calm I had never known in her before, with a light shimmer of indifference and derision in her voice, she looked the Cyclops in the face and said:
—You ask me who gave me the authority to come out and hand the problem to you?
—Yes, he snapped, that’s what I asked you.
—My conscience, Rosa replied.
The air was full of electricity. Now the thunderbolt would fall. But in its place the bell rang out, and as Gadebsky never allowed himself to be a second late—he was accustomed to end his hour precisely with the bell—he closed the class-book and left the room, without a second glance at any of us.
Translated by Nettie Palmer