The Jewish Girl
By HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
There was in the charity-school among the other children a little Jewish girl, so clever and good; the best, in fact, of them all; but one of the lessons she could not attend--the one when religion was taught, for this was a Christian school.
Then she held her geography book before her to learn from it, or she did her sum; but the lesson was quickly learned, the sum was soon done; the book might be there open before her, but she did not read, she was listening; and the teacher soon noticed that she was attending more intently, even, than any of the rest.
"Read your book," the teacher urged, mildly and earnestly; but she looked at him with her black sparkling eyes, and when he put questions to her also, she knew more than all the others. She had listened, understood, and kept his words.
Her father was a poor honest man, and when first he brought her to the school, he had made the stipulation that she should not be taught the Christian faith. To let her go away during the Scripture lesson might, however, have given offence, and raised thoughts of various kinds in the minds of the other children, and so she stayed; but this could not go on any longer.
The teacher went to her father, and told him that either he must take his daughter away from the school, or consent to her becoming a Christian.
"I cannot bear to see those burning eyes, that yearning, that thirst of the soul, as it were, after the words of the gospel," said the teacher.
And the father burst into tears. "I know but little myself of our own religion, but her mother was a daughter of Israel, of strong and firm faith, and on her dying bed I made a vow that our child should never receive Christian baptism; that vow I must keep; it is to me as a convenant with God."
And the little Jewish girl was taken away from the school of the Christians.
Years rolled by.
In one of the smallest towns of Jutland served as maid in a plain burgher's house a poor girl of the Mosaic faith; this was Sarah. Her hair was black as ebony, her eyes dark, and yet brilliant and full of light, such as you see among the daughters of the East; and the expression in the countenance of the grown-up girl was still that of the child who sat on the school-room bench, listening with thoughtful and wistful eye.
Each Sunday sounded from the church the pealing of the organ to the song of the congregation, and the tones floated over the street, into the house, where the Jewish girl attended to her work, diligent and faithful in her calling. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," this was her law; but her Sabbath was a day of labor to the Christians, and only in her heart could she keep it holy; and that was not enough for her. But when the thought arose in her soul, "What matters it before God about days and hours?" and on the Sunday of the Christians her hour of devotion remained undisturbed. If, then, the organ's peal and the psalm-tunes reached over to her, where she stood in the kitchen, even this became a quiet and consecrated spot. She would read then the treasure and peculiar property of her people, the Old Testament, and this alone; for she kept deep in her heart what her father had told the teacher and herself when she was taken from the school--the vow made to her dying mother, "that Sarah should not be baptized, not forsake the faith of her fathers." The New Testament was, and should remain forever, a sealed book to her; and yet she knew much of it; it shone to her through the recollections of childhood.
One evening she sat in a corner of the parlor, and heard her master reading aloud. She might listen, she thought, for this was not the gospel; nay! 'twas out of an old story-book he read: she might stay. And he read of a Hungarian knight, taken captive by a Turkish pasha, who had him yoked with oxen to the plow; and he was driven with lashes, and had to suffer pain and ignominy beyond endurance.
But at home the knight's wife sold all her jewels, and mortgaged castle and lands, and his friends contributed large sums, for enormous was the ransom demanded; still it was raised, and he was delivered out of thraldom and disgrace. Sick and suffering, he came to his home. But soon resounded far and near the summons to war against the foe of Christianity. The sick man heard the call, and had neither peace nor rest any longer; he was placed on his charger; the blood came again to his cheeks, his strength seemed to return, and he rode forth to victory. The very pasha who had him yoked to the plow, and made him suffer pain and scorn, became his captive. He was carried home to the castle dungeon, but before his first hour there had elapsed the knight came, and asked the prisoner, "What dost thou think awaiteth thee?"
"I know," said the Turk; "retribution."
"Yes, the Christian's retribution," said the knight. "Christ taught us to forgive our enemies, to love our fellow-men. God is love! Depart in peace to thy home and thy dear ones, and be gentle and good to those who suffer."
Then the prisoner burst into tears.
"How could I believe such a thing could be possible? Torments and sufferings I looked forward to as a certainty, and I took poison, which must kill me; within a few hours I shall die. There is no remedy. But before I die make known to me the faith that embraces such an amount of love and mercy; it is great and divine! In it let me die; let me die a Christian!" and his prayer was granted.
This was the legend, the history which was read; they all listened to it with attention, but deepest sank it into the heart of her who sat alone in the corner--the servant maid--Sarah, the Jewess. Heavy tears stood in her black sparkling eyes while she sat here, as once on the school-bench, and felt the greatness of the gospel. The tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Let not my child become a Christian!" were the mother's last words on her dying bed, and they rang through her soul with those of the law, "Honor thy father and thy mother!"
"Still I have not been baptized! they call me 'the Jewess'; the neighbors' boys did so, hooting at me last Sunday as I stood outside the open church door, and looked in where the altar-lights burned and the congregation sang. Ever since my school-days, up to this hour--even though I have tried to close my eyes against it--a power from Christianity has like a sunbeam shone into my heart. But, my mother, I will not give thee sorrow in thy grave! I will not betray the vow my father made to thee; I will not read the Christian's Bible. Have not I the God of my fathers? On Him let me rest my head!"
And years rolled by.
The husband died, the wife was left behind in hard plight. Now she could no longer afford to have a maid; but Sarah did not forsake the widow; she became her help in distress, and kept the household together; she worked till late in the night, and got bread for the house by the labor of her hands. There were no near relatives to help a family where the mother grew weaker each day, lingering for months on a bed of sickness. Sarah, gentle and pious, watched, nursed, and worked, and became the blessing of the poor home.
"There lies the Bible," said the invalid; "read to me this wearisome evening; I sadly want to hear God's word."
And Sarah bowed her head; she folded her hands round the Bible, which she opened, and read aloud to the sick woman; now and again the tears welled forth, but her eyes shone clearer, even as the darkness cleared from her soul. "Mother, thy child shall not receive the baptism of the Christians, shall not be named in their communion; in this we will be united here on earth, but above this there is--is a greater unity--even in God. 'He goes with us beyond the grave'; 'It is He who pours water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.' I understand it! I do not know myself how I came to it! through Him it is--in Him--Christ!"
And she trembled as she named the holy name; a baptism of fire streamed through her, stronger than her frame could bear, and she bent down, more powerless even than she by whom she watched.
"Poor Sarah!" they said; "she is worn out with labor and watching."
They took her to the hospital for the poor; there she died; thence she was borne to her grave; not to the Christians' graveyard; that was not the place for the Jewish girl: no, outside, by the wall, her grave was dug.
And God's sun, which shone upon the graves of the Christians, shines also upon that of the Jewish girl; and the hymns which are sung by the graves of the Christians resound by her grave beyond the wall; thither, too, reaches the promise: "There is resurrection in Christ, in Him, the Saviour, who said to his disciples, 'John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.'"