|One thing one notices very much as a
'freshman' -- that is, the unconscious influence
which Christianity has over a nation. Go to the
most depraved wretch you can find in England, and
he has probably got a conscience, if only one can
get at it. But here the result of heathenism
seems to be to destroy men's consciences. They
never feel sin as such.|Rev. E. S. Carr, India.
|I have heard people say they enjoyed hearing
about missions. I often wonder if they would enjoy
watching a shipwreck.|
Mrs. Robert Stewart, China.
LEAVE this chapter if you want |something interesting to read|; hold your finger in the flame of a candle if you want to know what it is like to write it. If you do this, then you will know something of the burning at heart every missionary goes through who has to see the sort of thing I have to write about. Such things do not make interesting reading. Fire is an uncompromising thing, its characteristic is that it burns; and one writes with a hot heart sometimes. There are things like flames of fire. But perhaps one cares too much; it is only about a little girl.
I was coming home from work a few evenings ago when I met two men and a child. They were Caste men in flowing white scarves -- dignified, educated men. But the child? She glanced up at me, smiled, and salaamed. Then I remembered her; I had seen her before in her own home. These men belonged to her village. What were they doing with her?
Then a sudden fear shot through me, and I looked at the men, and they laughed. |We are taking her to the temple there,| and they pointed across through the trees, |to marry her to the god.|
It all passed in a moment. One of them caught her hand, and they went on. I stood looking after them -- just looking. The child turned once and waved her little hand to me. Then the trees came between.
The men's faces haunted me all night. I slept, and saw them in my dreams; I woke, and saw them in the dark. And that little girl -- oh, poor little girl! -- always I saw her, one hand in theirs, and the other waving to me!
And now it is over, the diabolical farce is over, and she is |tied,| as their idiom has it, |tied to the stone.| Oh, she is tied indeed, tied with ropes Satan twisted in his cruellest hour in hell!
We had to drive through the village a night or two later, and it was all ablaze. There was a crowd, and it broke to let our bullock carts pass, then it closed round two palanquins.
There were many men there, and girls. In the palanquins were two idols, god and goddess, out on view. It was their wedding night. We saw it all as we passed: the gorgeous decorations, gaudy tinsels, flowers fading in the heat and glare; saw, long after we had passed, the gleaming of the coloured lights, as they moved among the trees; heard for a mile and more along the road the sound of that heathen revelry; and every thud of the tom-tom was a thud upon one's heart. Our little girl was there, as one |married| to that god.
I had seen her only once before. She belonged to an interesting high-caste village, one of those so lately closed; and because there they have a story about the magic powder which, say what we will, they imagine I dust upon children's faces, I had not gone often lest it should shut the doors. But that last time I went, this child came up to me, and, with all the confidingness of a child, asked me to take her home with me. |Do let me come!| she said.
There were eyes upon me in a moment and heads shaken knowingly, and there were whispers at once among the women. The magic dust had been at work! I had |drawn| the little girl's heart to myself. Who could doubt it now? And one mother gathered her child in her arms and disappeared into the house. So I had to answer carefully, so that everyone could hear. Of course I knew they would not give her to me, and I thought no more of it.
I was talking to her grandmother then, a very remarkable old lady. She could repeat page after page from their beloved classics, and rather than let me sing Christian stanzas to her and explain them, she preferred to sing Hindu stanzas to me and explain them. |Consider the age of our great Religion, consider its literature -- millions of stanzas! What can you have to compare with it? These ignorant people about us do not appreciate things. They know nothing of the classics; as for the language, the depths of Tamil are beyond them -- is it not a shoreless sea?| And so she held the conversation.
[Illustration: This is vile enough to look at, but nothing to the reality. If the outer form is this, what must the soul within it be? Yet this is a |holy Brahman;| and if we sat down on that stone verandah he would shuffle past the pillar lest we should defile him. Look at the shadowy shapes behind; they might be spirits of darkness. It is he, and such as he, who have power over little temple flowers.]
It was just at this point the child reappeared, and, standing by the verandah upon which we were sitting, her little head on a level with our feet, she joined in the stanza her grandmother was chanting, and, to my astonishment, continued through the next and the next, while I listened wondering. Then jumping up and down, first on one foot, then on the other, with her little face full of delight at my evident surprise, she told me she was learning much poetry now; and then, with the merriest little laugh, she ran off again to play.
And this was the child. All that brightness, all that intelligence, |married to a god.|
Now I understood the question she had asked me. She was an orphan, as we afterwards heard, living in charge of an old aunt, who had some connection with the temple. She must have heard her future being discussed, and not understanding it, and being frightened, had wondered if she might come to us. But they had taken their own way of reconciling her to it; a few sweets, a cake or two, and a promise of more, a vision of the gay time the magic word marriage conjures up, and the child was content to go with them, to be led to the temple -- and left there.
But her people were so thoroughly refined and nice, so educated too, -- could it be, can it be, possibly true? Yes, it is true; this is Hinduism -- not in theory of course, but in practice. Think of it; it is done to-day.
A moment ago I looked up from my writing and saw the little Elf running towards me, charmed to find me all alone, and quite at leisure for her. And now I watch her as she runs, dancing gleefully down the path, turning again -- for she knows I am watching -- to throw kisses to me. And I think of her and her childish ways, naughty ways so often, too, but in their very naughtiness only childish and small, and I shiver as I think of her, and a thousand thousand as small as she, being trained to be devil's toys. They brought one here a few days ago to act as decoy to get the Elf back. She was a beautiful child of five. Think of the shame of it!
We are told to modify things, not to write too vividly, never to harrow sensitive hearts. Friends, we cannot modify truth, we cannot write half vividly enough; and as for harrowing hearts, oh that we could do it! That we could tear them up, that they might pour out like water! that we could see hands lifted up towards God for the life of these young children! Oh, to care, and oh for power to make others care, not less but far, far more! care till our eyes do fail with tears for the destruction of the daughters of our people!
This photo is from death in life; a carcass, moving, breathing, sinning -- such a one sits by that child to-day.
I saw him once. There is a monastery near the temple. He is |the holiest man in it|; the people worship him. The day I saw him they had wreathed him with fresh-cut flowers; white flowers crowned that hideous head, hung round his neck and down his breast; a servant in front carried flowers. Was there ever such desecration? That vileness crowned with flowers!
I knew something about the man. His life is simply unthinkable. Talk of beasts in human shape! It is slandering the good animals to compare bad men to beasts. Safer far a tiger's den than that man's monastery.
But he is a temple saint, wise in the wisdom of his creed; earthly, sensual, devilish. Look at him till you feel as if you had seen him. Let the photo do its work. It is loathsome -- yes, but true.
Now, put a flower in his hand -- a human flower this time. Now put beside him, if you can, a little girl -- your own little girl -- and leave her there -- yes, leave her there in his hand.