Great Gain

She shivered as she stepped across the rugged rocks. That big boulder standing straight and alone would give some shelter from the wind. Stumbling, she twisted her ankle and felt the tears creep to the surface. She wished she would reach that rock. Walking side-wise might work better, because the small rocks underfoot were slippery from the drizzle.

Facing the tall rock at last, she ran her hands over its rough surface. Here was a niche she was looking for. Pulling her loose raincoat over her head for protection, she pillowed her face in her arms against the cold stone: she stood very still and sobbed.

Could there be a worse hour to be out here alone? Five o clock on a dark drizzly morning with scarcely a streak of light in the sky? Even the lake, the lake she loved, with its shores sometimes sandy, sometimes stony, looked bleak.

But she had planned it this way. For weeks she had thought it out. Mom called it moping. Now it seemed morbid, and she couldn’t go through with it. She slid her arms down the side of the rock and wearily sank down. With head and arms resting on her knees, a crooked little figure, she sighed.

That was it, she sobbed again, her crooked little figure. Her back. And people meant so well when they told her to forget her hunched-up figure. She had such a pretty face. And people told her not to mind the stares and sarcasms of taunting children, but to remember that children are cruel and they will grow up to understand. And people told her she could use her talents and be of a lot of use in life.

And her parents had pondered all her problems with her. For several years they had “sessions” as Dad called them. She really wanted the sessions to help her, and sometimes they did. Mom said a crooked body needn’t house a crooked soul. Dad said her heavenly Father gave her that crooked back for His own good purpose.

The minister came often to chat. He would remind her what Paul said about godliness with contentment. She tried to think the way they wanted her to. But then she would look at her ill-fitting clothes and spindly legs as she stood with her back against the wall in the hall at school and watched the graceful flirting girls laugh along with their would-be dates. The boys smiled at her, and were even sympathetic sometimes, but she knew she would never have a real date. She would never realize the dream of every girl, to marry, to have a home, and, most cherished dream of all, to become a mother.

Then all pious talk of purposeful living faded, and she looked at life at seventeen with an aching dullness and utter loneliness. Why did it have to be me? Why not end it? She sobbed aloud.

Startled, she stood up. Someone else was walking along the lake shore at this odd hour. It was a boy, because she could hear him whistling. She was dabbing at her face when he rounded the bend in the rocks.

“Did I hear someone crying?”

No answer.

“How come?”

“Because it’s raining,” she heard herself squeak lamely.

“Not when the sun is out. Then the rain stops. Come over here and feel the first warm rays of the morning sun. They’re always the best, you know.” His voice was hearty. If he was laughing at her he didn’t show it.

Timidly she tripped over the rocks and sand. She hadn’t noticed that the rain had stopped.

“Beautiful morning for a walk,” he began tritely. Did he expect her to walk along with him? She stole a shy look, but he was looking out toward the lake.

“Come along a little way,” he said, still looking over the lake.

They didn’t talk as they crunched along the still-damp sand. His name would be Bob, she thought. That would fit a tall, well-built, clean-cut. boy. His hair was blond and short. His easy bearing and expensive clothes told her that he was used to the finer things in life. She could picture him in a cream-colored convertible with his fashionable friends: or he would have a sailboat. Yes, he would like sailboat races. He would be an all-around fellow at school. His girl-friend would be . . .

Turning abruptly toward her, his pale blue eyes smiling down at her, he queried, “Do I pass?”

“I — I don’t even know you.”

“You’re trying to figure me out, though. Just wondered if I passed inspection. But never mind,” he laughed, “Let’s talk about the lake. I love it. Always call it my lake. The fresh breeze in summer, the gale in winter, the placid ripple or the war-like waves intrigue me. I love to listen to the first splashes of the frolicking fish, and to the busy birds discussing their morning chores . . . Then the sun slowly comes around to greet me. Oh, I’d never miss my morning walk.”

He was probably a poet, too. Then in a slower voice he went on. “It’s just the time to think out all those problems. Wouldn’t you say so?”

“I’d say you wouldn’t have problems.”

Silence again. It was strange that she had never seen him. Their town wasn’t very large. That ring on his finger, elegant, expensive, might be a class ring from an exclusive school. His father might be a successful lawyer, or a doctor. Anyway, unconventional as this walk might be, it was taking her mind off her troubles.

“Are my legs going too fast for you,” he asked, shortening his strides, “or are your troubles bogging you down?”

“Are you a mind reader?”

He laughed again. “Elementary. Why else would a pretty young girl leave her beauty sleep and sit crying on some rocks? But we needn’t talk about it.”

“Why should we?” She knew he heard the bitterness in her voice. “Anyone with half an eye can see how deformed I am. And you needn’t be kind and say that it doesn’t show under my raincoat.”

To her surprise, he didn’t look at her. He kept gazing quietly toward the lake.

“I’m young yet,” she went on, “and have nothing, nothing but an empty friendless life to look forward to. No fun, no sports, no dates,” she was speaking impetuously now, “and I may as well tell you the rest. I was going to end it all in your beautiful lake this morning.”

“Would it have helped?”

She didn’t answer. She didn’t care what he thought about her. She still had half a mind to go through with it.

He spoke with seriousness beyond his years. “Would it be right? Have you thought of your parents? Of yourself?” She stopped a moment and rubbed her tiny foot on a smooth stone. “Don’t preach,” she sighed. “How could you understand? You have everything. You don’t know what it is to be sweetly sympathized with. You don’t know what loneliness is: you, with your beautiful body and good looks, plenty money, popularity, and probably a dozen girl-friends.”

“A what?” He threw his head back and laughed. “That’s funny! The best joke …”

“Watch out!”

But he had already stumbled. It wasn’t a deep crevice, but the rocks were sharp and he had a gash above his ankle.

“Sit here,” and she helped him to a flat rock, “and I’ll try to fix up that cut. Next time if you don’t laugh so hard, you’ll see the pitfalls ahead,” she lectured.

Kneeling at his feet, busy ripping up his handkerchief as a bandage, she didn’t notice how quickly his laugh died out. When she looked up she saw a sad wistfulness on his face as he said in measured tones. “That wasn’t the reason I mis-stepped on those rocks. You see, my friend, I’m blind.”