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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER II Three Afternoons off the Track

Things As They Are by Amy Wilson-Carmichael

CHAPTER II Three Afternoons off the Track

|They are led captive by Satan at his will in the
most quiescent manner.|
David Brainerd, North America.

|Oh that the Lord would pour out upon them a
spirit of deep concern for their souls!|
Henry Martyn, India.

|I ask you earnestly to pray that the Gospel may
take saving and working effect.|
James Gilmour, Mongolia.

THE Western Ghauts sweep down to the sea in curves. Dohnavur is in one of the last of these curves. There are no proper roads running under the mountains, only rough country ruts crossing the plain. We were rolling along one of these at the rate of two miles an hour.

Crash and tumble went the bandy, a springless construction with a mat roof; bang over stones and slabs of rock, down on one side, up on the other; then both wheels were sharp aslant. But this is usual. On that particular First Afternoon the water was out, which is the South Indian way of saying that the tanks, great lake-like reservoirs, have overflowed and flooded the land. Once we went smoothly down a bank and into a shallow swollen pool, and the water swished in at the lower end and floated our books out quietly. So we had to stop, and fish them up; and then, huddled close at the upper end we sat, somewhat damp, but happy.

At last we got to our destination, reached through a lane which then was a stream with quite a swift little current of its own. Cupid's Lake the place is called. We thought the name appropriate. Cupid's Lake is peopled by Castes of various persuasions; we made for the Robber quarter first. The Robber Caste is honourable here; it furnishes our watchmen and the coolies who carry our money. There is good stuff in the Robber Caste people: a valiant people are they, and though they were not prepared for the thing that was coming towards them, they met it with fortitude. A little girl saw it first. One glance at my hat through the end of the cart, and she flew to spread the news --

|Oh! everyone come running and see! A great white man is here! Oh what an appalling spectacle! A great white man!|

Then there was a general rush; children seemed to spring from the ground, all eyes and tongues and astonishment. |She isn't a man!| |He is!| |She isn't!| |He has got a man's turban!| |But look at her seeley!| (Tamil dress.) A woman, and white -- it staggered them till the assurances of the Band Sisters prevailed; and they let me into a neighbouring house, out of the sun which made that hat a necessity. Once it was off they lost all fear, and crowded round in the friendliest fashion; but later, one of the Band was amused by hearing me described in full: |Not a man, though great and white, and wearing a white man's turban, too! Was it not an appalling spectacle?| And the old body who was addressed held up both her hands amazed, and hastened off to investigate.

An English magazine told us lately exactly what these poor women think when they see, for the first time in their lives, the lady missionary. They greatly admire her, the article said, and consider her fairer and more divine than anything ever imagined before -- which is very nice indeed to read; but here what they say is this: |Was it not an appalling spectacle? A great white man!|

And now that the spectacle was safe in the house, the instincts of hospitality urged clean mats and betel. Betel (pronounced beetle) is the leaf of a climbing plant, into which they roll a morsel of areca nut and lime. The whole is made up into a parcel and munched, but not swallowed. This does not sound elegant; neither is the thing. It is one of the minor trials of life to have to sit through the process.

We took a leaf or two, but explained that it was not our custom to eat it; and then we answered questions straight off for ten minutes. |What is your Caste?| |Chee!| in a tone of remonstrance, |don't you see she is white? Married or widow? Why no jewels? What relations? Where are they all? Why have you left them and come here? Whatever can be your business here? What does the Government give you for coming here?| These last questions gave us the chance we were watching for, and we began to explain.

Now what do these people do when, for the first time, they hear the Good Tidings? They simply stare.

In that house that day there was an old woman who seemed to understand a little what it was all about. She had probably heard before. But nobody else understood in the least; they did not understand enough to make remarks. They sat round us on the floor and ate betel, as everybody does here in all leisure moments, and they stared.

The one old woman who seemed to understand followed us out of the house, and remarked that it was a good religion but a mistaken one, as it advocated, or resulted in, the destruction of Caste.

In the next house we found several girls, and tried to persuade the mothers to let them learn to read. If a girl is learning regularly it gives one a sort of right of entrance to the house. One's going there is not so much observed and one gets good chances, but to all our persuasions they only said it was not their custom to allow their girls to learn. Had they to do Government work? Learning was for men who wanted to do Government work. We explained a little, and mentioned the many villages where girls are learning to read. They thought it a wholly ridiculous idea. Then we told them as much as we could in an hour about the great love of Jesus Christ.

I was in the middle of it, and thinking only of it and their souls, when an old lady with fluffy white hair leaned forward and gazed at me with a beautiful, earnest gaze. She did not speak; she just listened and gazed, |drinking it all in.| And then she raised a skeleton claw, and grabbed her hair, and pointed to mine. |Are you a widow too,| she asked, |that you have no oil on yours?| After a few such experiences that beautiful gaze loses its charm. It really means nothing more nor less than the sweet expression sometimes observed in the eyes of a sorrowful animal.

But her question had set the ball rolling again. |Oil! no oil! Can't you even afford a halfpenny a month to buy good oil? It isn't your custom? Why not? Don't any white Ammals ever use oil? What sort of oil do the girls use? Do you never use castor oil for the hair? Oh, castor oil is excellent!| And they went into many details. The first thing they do when a baby is born is to swing it head downwards, holding its feet, and advise it not to sin; and the second thing is to feed it with castor oil, and put castor oil in its eyes. |Do we do none of these things?| We sang to them. They always like that, and sometimes it touches them: but the Tamils are not easily touched, and could never be described as unduly emotional.

All through there were constant and various interruptions. Two bulls sauntered in through the open door, and established themselves in their accustomed places; then a cow followed, and somebody went off to tie the animals up. Children came in and wanted attention, babies made their usual noises. We rarely had five consecutive quiet minutes.

When they seemed to be getting tired of us, we said the time was passing, to which they agreed, and, with a word about hoping to come again, to which they answered cordially, |Oh yes! Come to-morrow!| we went out into the street, and finished up in the open air. There is a tree at one end of the village; we stood under it and sang a chorus and taught the children who had followed us from house to house to sing it, and this attracted some passing grown-ups, who listened while we witnessed unto Jesus, Who had saved us and given us His joy. Nothing tells more than just this simple witness. To hear one of their own people saying, with evident sincerity, |One thing I know, that whereas I was blind now I see,| makes them look at each other and nod their heads sympathetically. This is something that appeals, something they can appreciate; many a time it arrests attention when nothing else would.

[Illustration: We were not able to get the photo of that special girl in the blue seeley, but this girl is so like her that I put her here. She is a Vellalar. The jewels worn by a girl of this class run into thousands of rupees. They are part of the ordinary dress. This girl did not know we were coming, she was |caught| just as she was. She had a ball of pink oleander flowers in her hands and white flowers in her hair.]

We were thoroughly tired by this time, and could neither talk nor sing any more. The crowd melted -- all but the children, who never melt -- one by one going their respective ways, having heard, some of them, for the first time. What difference will it make in their lives? Did they understand it? None of them seemed specially interested, none of them said anything interesting. The last question I heard was about soap -- |What sort of soap do you use to make your skin white?| Most of them would far prefer to be told that secret than how to get a white heart.

Afternoon Number Two found us in the Village of the Temple, a tumble-down little place, but a very citadel of pride and the arrogance of ignorance. We did not know that at first, of course, but we very soon found it out. There was the usual skirmish at the sight of a live white woman; no one there had seen such a curiosity. But even curiosity could not draw the Brahmans. They live in a single straggling street, and would not let us in. |Go!| said a fat old Brahman disdainfully; |no white man has ever trodden our street, and no white woman shall. As for that low-caste child with you| -- Victory looked up in her gentle way, and he varied it to -- |that child who eats with those low-caste people -- she shall not speak to one of our women. Go by the way you have come!|

This was not encouraging. We salaamed and departed, and went to our bandy left outside (|low-caste bandies| are not allowed to drive down Brahman streets), and asked our Master to open another door. While we were waiting, a tall, fine-looking Hindu came and said, |Will you come to my house? I will show you the way.| So we went.

He led us to the Vellala quarter next to the Brahmans, and we found his house was the great house of the place. The outer door opened into a large square inner courtyard. A wide verandah, supported by pillars quaintly carved, ran round it. The women's rooms, low and windowless, opened on either side; these are the rooms we rejoice to get into, and now we were led right in.

But first I had to talk to the men. They were regular Caste Hindus; courteous -- for they have had no cause to fear the power of the Gospel -- yet keen and argumentative. One of them had evidently read a good deal. He quoted from their classics; knew all about Mrs. Besant and the latest pervert to her views; and was up in the bewildering tangle of thought known as Hindu Philosophy. |Fog-wreaths of doubt, in blinding eddies drifted| -- that is what it really is, but it is very difficult to prove it so.

One truth struck him especially -- Christianity is the only religion which provides a way by which there is deliverance from sin now. There is a certain system of philosophy which professes to provide deliverance in the future, when the soul, having passed through the first three stages of bliss, loses its identity and becomes absorbed in God; but there is no way by which deliverance can be obtained here and now. |Sin shall not have dominion over you| -- there is no such line as this in all the million stanzas of the Hindu classics. He admitted this freely, admitted that this one tenet marked out Christianity as a unique religion; but he did not go on further; he showed no desire to prove the truth of it.

After this they let us go to the women, who had all this time been watching us, and discussing us with interest.

Once safely into their inner room, we sat down on the floor in the midst of them, and began to make friends. There was a grandmother who had heard that white people were not white all over, but piebald, so to speak; might she examine me? There were several matronly women who wanted to know what arrangements English parents made concerning their daughters' marriages. There were the usual widows of a large Indian household -- one always looks at them with a special longing; and there was a dear young girl, in a soft blue seeley (Tamil dress), her ears clustered about with pearls, and her neck laden with five or six necklets worth some hundreds of rupees. She was going to be married; and beyond the usual gentle courtesy of a well-brought-up Tamil girl, showed no interest in us. Almost all the women had questions to ask. On the track it is different; they have already satisfied their lawful curiosity concerning Missie Ammals; but here they have not had the chance; and if we ignore their desires, we defeat our own. They may seem to listen, but they are really occupied in wondering about us. We got them to listen finally, and left them, cheered by warm invitations to return.

Then we thought of the poor proud Brahmans, and hoping that, perhaps, in the interval they had inquired about us, and would let us in, we went to them again. We could see the fair faces and slender forms of the younger Brahman women standing in the shadow behind their verandah pillars, and some of them looked as if they would like to let us in, but the street had not relented; and a Brahman street is like a house -- you cannot go in unless you are allowed.

There was one kind-faced, courtly old man, and he seemed to sympathise with us, for he left the mocking group of men, and came to see us off; and then, as if to divert us from the greater topic, he pointed to one of the mountains, a spur of the God King's mountain, famous in all South India, and volunteered to tell me its story. We were glad to make friends with him even over so small a thing as a mountain; but he would speak of nothing else, and when he left us we felt baffled and sorry, and tired with the tiredness that comes when you cannot give your message; and we sat down on a rock outside the Brahman street, to wait till the Band Sisters gathered for the homeward walk.

It was sunset time, and the sky was overcast by dull grey clouds; but just over the Brahman quarter there was a rift in the grey, and the pent-up gold shone through. It seemed as if God were pouring out His beauty upon those Brahmans, trying to make them look up, and they would not. One by one we saw them go to their different courtyards, where the golden glow could not reach them, and we heard them shut their great heavy doors, as if they were shutting Him out.

In there it was dark; out here, out with God, it was light. The after-glow, that loveliest glow of the East, was shining through the rent of the clouds, and the red-tiled roofs and the scarlet flowers of the Flame of the Forest, and every tint and colour which would respond in any way, were aglow with the beauty of it. The Brahman quarter was set in the deep green of shadowy trees; just behind it the mountains rose outlined in mist, and out of the mist a waterfall gleamed white against blue.

We spent Afternoon Number Three in the Village of the Warrior, a lonely little place, left all by itself on a great rough moorland -- if you can call a patch of bare land |moor| which is destitute of heather, and grows palms and scrub in clumps instead. It took us rather a long time to get to it, over very broken ground on a very hot day; but when we did get there we found such a good opening that we forgot about our feelings, and entered in rejoicing. There were some little children playing at the entrance to the village, and they led us straight to their own house, making friends in the most charming way as they trotted along beside us. They told us their family history, and we told them as much of ours as was necessary, and they introduced us to their mothers as old acquaintances. The mothers were indulgent, and let us have a room all to ourselves in the inner courtyard, where a dozen or more children gathered and listened with refreshing zest. They understood, dear little things, though so often their elders did not.

Then the mothers got interested, and sat about the door. The girls were with me. (We usually divide into two parties; the elder and more experienced Sisters go off in one direction, and the young convert-girls come with me.) And before long, Jewel of Victory was telling out of a full heart all about the great things God had done for her. She has a very sweet way with the women, and they listened fascinated. Then the others spoke, and still those women listened. They were more intelligent than our audience of yesterday; and though they did not follow nearly all, they listened splendidly to the story-part of our message. In the meaning, as is often the case, their interest was simply nil.

But we were sorry, and I think so were they, when a commotion outside disturbed us, and we were sorrier when we knew the cause. The village postman, who only visits these out-of-the-way places once a week, had appeared with a letter for the head of the house. One of the men folk had read it. It told of the death of the son in foreign parts -- Madras, I think -- and the poor old mother's one desire was to see us out of the room. She had not liked to turn us out; but, as the news spread, more women gathered clamouring round the door; and the moment we left the room empty, in they rushed, with the mother and the women who had listened to us, and flinging themselves on the floor, cried the Tamil cry of sorrow, full of a pathos of its own: |Ai-y[=o]! Ai-y[=o]! Ai-Ai-y[=o]!|

It was sad to leave them crying so, but at that moment we were certainly better away. The children came with us to the well outside the village, and we sat on its wall and went on with our talk. They would hardly let us go, and begged us to come back and |teach them every day,| not the Gospel -- do not imagine their little hearts craved for that -- but reading and writing and sums! As we drove off some of the villagers smiled and salaamed, and the little children's last words followed us as far as we could hear them: |Come back soon!|

Sometimes, as now, when we come to a new place, we dream a dream, dream that perhaps at last it may be possible to win souls peacefully. Perhaps these courteous, kindly people will welcome the message we bring them when they understand it better. Perhaps homes need not be broken up, perhaps whole families will believe, or individual members believing may still live in their own homes and witness there. Perhaps -- perhaps -- ! And snatches of verse float through our dream --

|Oh, might some sweet song Thy lips have taught us, Some glad song, and sweet,
Guide amidst the mist, and through the darkness,
Lost ones to Thy feet!|

It sounds so beautiful, so easy, singing souls to Jesus. And we dream our dream.

Till suddenly and with violence we are awakened. Someone -- a mere girl, or a lad, or even a little child -- has believed, has confessed, wants to be a Christian. And the whole Caste is roused, and the whole countryside joins with the Caste; and the people we almost thought loved us, hate us. And till we go to the next new place we never dream that dream again.

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