|When any person is known to be considering the
new Religion, all his relations and acquaintances
rise en masse
; so that to get a new convert is
like pulling out the eye-tooth of a live tiger.|Adoniram Judson, Burmah.
EVERY missionary who has despaired of hitting upon an illustration vivid enough to show you what the work is really like among Mohammedans and Caste Hindus will appreciate this simile. After our return from Dohnavur we found that the long-closed villages of this eastern countryside had opened again, and the people were willing to allow us to teach the girls and women. For two months this lasted, and then three boys, belonging to three different Castes, became known as inquirers. Instantly the news spread through all the villages. It was in vain we told them we (women-workers) had never once even seen the boys, had in no way influenced them; the people held to it that, personally responsible or not, the book we taught to the girls was the same those boys had read (an undeniable fact); that its poison entered through the eyes, ascended to the brain, descended to the heart, and then drew the reader out of his Caste and his religion; and that therefore we could not be tolerated in the streets or in the houses any more, and so we were turned out.
[Illustration: |It took me such a long time to learn to draw nicely,| said Victory when she saw this photo; |I used to go to the Brahman street every morning and practise it there.| A design is drawn with a piece of chalk on the ground in front of every house each morning during part of December and January, in memory of a goddess who used to amuse herself by drawing these patterns and planting flowers in them. All sorts of geometrical designs are drawn by the women and children, and the regular morning drawing is part of the day's work.]
In one village where many of the relations of one of these three lads live, the tiger growled considerably. One furious old dame called us |Child-snatchers and Powder-mongers,| and white snakes of the cobra species, and a particular genus of lizard, which when stamped upon merely wriggles, and cannot be persuaded to die (this applied to our persistence in evil), and a great many other things. The women stood out in the street in defiant groups and would not let us near enough to explain. The men sat on the verandah fronts and smiled, blandly superior to the childish nonsense the women talked, but they did not interfere.
Villages like this -- and Old India is made up of such villages -- are far removed from the influence of the few enlightened centres which exist. Madras is only a name to them, distant four hundred miles or so, a place where Caste notions are very lax and people are mixed up and jumbled together in a most unbecoming way.
Education, or |Learning,| as they call it, they consider an excellent thing for boys who want to come to the front and earn money and grow rich. But for girls, what possible use is it? Can they pass examinations and get into Government employ? If you answered this question you would only disgust them. Then there is a latent feeling common enough in these old Caste families, that it is rather infra dig. for their women to know too much. It may be all very well for those who have no pretensions to greatness, they may need a ladder by which to climb up the social scale, but we who are already at the top, what do we want with it? |Have not our daughters got their Caste?| This feeling is passing away in the towns, but the villages hold out longer.
In that particular village we had some dear little girls who were getting very keen, and it was so hard to move out, and leave the field to the devil as undisputed victor thereon, and I sent one of our workers to try again. She is a plucky little soul, but even she had to beat a retreat. They will have none of us.
We went on that day to a village where they had listened splendidly only a week before. They had no time, it was the busy season. Then to a town, farther on, but it was quite impracticable. So we went to our friend the dear old Evangelist there, the blind old man. He and his wife are lights in that dark town. It is so refreshing to spend half an hour with two genuine good old Christians after a tug of war with the heathen; they have no idea they are helping you, but they are, and you return home ever so much the happier for the sight of them.
As we came home we were almost mobbed. In the old days mobs there were of common occurrence. It is a rough market town, and the people, after the first converts came, used to hoot us through the streets, and throw handfuls of sand at us, and shower ashes on our hair. In theory I like this very much, but in practice not at all. The yellings of the crowd, men chiefly, are not polite; the yelpings of the dogs, set on by sympathetic spectators; the sickening blaze of the sun and the reflected glare from the houses; the blinding dust in your eyes, and the queer feel of ashes down your neck; above all, the sense that this sort of thing does no manner of good -- for it is not persecution (nothing so heroic), and it will not end in martyrdom (no such honours come our way) -- all this row, and all these feelings, one on the top of the other, combine to make mobbing less interesting than might be expected. You hold on, and look up for patience and good nature and such like common graces, and you pray that you may not be down with fever to-morrow -- for fever has a way of stopping work -- and you get out of it all, as quickly as you can, without showing undue hurry. And then, though little they know it, you go and get a fresh baptism of love for them all.
But how delighted one would be to go through such unromantic trifles every hour of every day, if only at the end one could get into the hearts and the homes of the people. As it is, just now, our grief is that we cannot. We know of several who want us, and we are shut out from them.
One is a young wife, who saw us one day by the waterside, and asked us to come and teach her. For doing this she was publicly beaten that evening in the open street, by a man, before men; so, for fear of what they would do to her, we dare not go near the house. Another is a widow who has spent all her fortune in building a rest-house for the Brahmans, and who has not found Rest. She listened once, too earnestly; she has not been allowed to listen again. Oh, how that tiger bites!
Next door to her is a child we have prayed for for three years. She was a loving, clinging child when I knew her then, little Gold, with the earnest eyes. That last day I saw her, she put her hands into mine, caring nothing for defilement; |Are we not one Caste?| she said. I did not know it was the last time I should see her; that the next time when I spoke to her I should only see her shadow in the dark; and one wishes now one had known -- how much one would have said! But the house was open then, and all the houses were. Then the first girl convert, after bravely witnessing at home, took her stand as a Christian. Her Caste people burned down the little Mission school -- a boys' school -- and chalked up their sentiments on the charred walls. They burned down the Bible-woman's house and a school sixteen miles away; and the countryside closed, every town and village in it, as if the whole were a single door, with the devil on the other side of it.
But some of the girls behind the door managed to send us messages. Gold was one of these. She wanted so much to see us again, she begged us to come and try. We tried; we met the mother outside, and asked her to let us come. She is a hard old woman, with eyes like bits of black ice, set deep in her head. She froze us, and refused.
Afterwards we heard what the child's punishment was. They took her down to the water, and led her in. She stood trembling, waist deep, not knowing what they meant to do. Then they held her head under the water till she made some sign to show she would give in. They released her then, rubbed ashes on her brow, sign of recantation, and they led her back sobbing -- poor little girl. She is not made of martyr stuff; she was only miserable. For some months we saw nothing of her. We used to go to the next house and persuade the people to let us sing to them. We sang for Gold; but we never knew if she heard.
One evening, as two of us came home late from work, a woman passed us and said hurriedly to me, |Come, come quickly, and alone. It is Gold who calls you! Come!| I followed her to the house. |I am Gold's married sister,| she explained. |Sit down outside in the verandah near the door and wait till the child comes out.| Then she went in, and I sat still and waited.
Those minutes were like heart-beats. What was happening inside? But apparently the mother was away, for soon the door opened softly, and a shadow flitted out, and I knew it must be Gold. She dropped on her knees on the little narrow verandah on the other side of the door and crept along to its farther end, and then I could only distinguish a dark shape in the dark. For perhaps five minutes no one came except the sister, who stood at the door and watched. And for those five minutes one was free to speak as freely as one could speak to a shape which one could barely see, and which showed no sign, and spoke no word. Five whole minutes! How one valued every moment of them! Then a man came and sat down on the verandah. He must have been a relative, for he did not mean to go. I wished he would. It was impossible to talk past him to her, without letting him know she was there; so one had to talk to him, but for her, and even this could not last long. Dusk here soon is dark; we had to go. As we went, we looked back and saw him still keeping his unconscious guard over the child in her hiding-place.
There are no secrets in India. It was known that we had been there, and that stern old mother punished her child; but how, we never knew.
If any blame us for going at all, let it be remembered that one of Christ's little ones was thirsty, and she held out her hand for a cup of cold water. We could not have left that hand empty, I think.
After that we heard nothing for a year; then an old man whom we had helped, and who hoped we intended to help him more, came one evening to tell us he meant to set Gold free. It was all to be secretly done, and it was to be done that night. We told him we could have nothing to do with his plan, and we explained to him why. |But,| he objected, |what folly is this? I thought you Christians helped poor girls, and this one certainly wants to come. She is of age. This is the time. If you wait you will never get her at all.| We knew this was more than probable; to refuse his help was like turning the key and locking her body and soul into prison -- an awful thought to me, as I remembered Treasure. But there was nothing else to be done; and afterwards, when we heard who he was, and what his real intentions were, we were thankful we had done it. He looked at us curiously as he went, as if our view of things struck him as strange; and he begged us never to breathe a word of what he had said. We never did, but it somehow oozed out, and soon after that he sickened and very suddenly died. His body was burnt within two hours. Post-mortems are rare in India.
Another year passed in silence as to Gold. How often we went down the street and looked across at her home, with its door almost always shut, and that icy-eyed mother on guard. We used to see her going about, never far from the house. When we saw her we salaamed; then she would glare at us grimly, and turn her back on us. Once the whole family went to a festival; but the girl of course was bundled in and out of a covered cart, and seen by no one, not even the next-door neighbours. There was talk of a marriage for her. Most girls of her Caste are married much younger; but to our relief this fell through, and once one of us saw her for a moment, and she still seemed to care to hear, though she was far too cowed by this time to show it.
Then we heard a rumour that a girl from the Lake Village had been seen by some of our Christians in a wood near a village five miles distant. These Christians are very out-and-out and keen about converts, and they managed to discover that the girl in the wood had some thought of being a Christian, and that her being there had some connection with this, so they told us at once. The description fitted Gold. But we could not account for a girl of her Caste being seen in a wood; she was always kept in seclusion. At last we found out the truth. She had shown some sign of a lingering love for Christ, and her mother had taken her to a famous Brahman ascetic who lived in that wood; and there together, mother and daughter stayed in a hut near the hermit's hut, and for three days he had devoted himself to confuse and confound her, and finally he succeeded, and reported her convinced.
[Illustration: This is the tangible brass-bossed door outside of which we so often stand on the stone step and knock, and hear voices from within call, |Everyone is out.| The hand-marks are the hand-prints of the Power that keeps the door shut. Once a year, every door and the lintel of every window, and sometimes the walls, are marked like this. That evening, just before dark, the god comes round, they say, and looks for his mark on the door, and, seeing it, blesses all in the house. If there is no mark he leaves a curse. This is the devil's South Indian parody on the Passover.]
We heard all this, and sorrowed, and wondered how it was done. We never heard all, but we heard one delusion they practised upon her, appealing as they so often do to the Oriental imagination, which finds such solid satisfaction in the supernatural. Nothing is so convincing as a vision or a dream; so a vision appeared before her, an incarnation, they told her, of Siva, in the form of Christ. Siva and Christ, then, were one, as they had so often assured her, one identity under two names. Hinduism is crammed with incarnations; this presented no difficulty. Like the old monk, the bewildered child looked for the print of the nails and the spear. Yes, they were there, marked in hands and foot and side. It must be hard to distrust one's own mother. Gold still trusted hers. |Listen!| said the mother, and the vision spoke. |If the speech of the Christians is true, I will return within twenty-four days; if the speech of the Hindus is true, I will not return.| Then hour by hour for those twenty-four days they wove their webs about her, webs of wonderful sophistry which have entangled keener brains than hers. She was entangled. The twenty-four days did their work. She yielded her will on the twenty-fifth. So the mother and the Brahman won.
These letters are written, as you know, with a definite purpose. We try to show you what goes on behind the door, the very door of the photograph, type of all the doors, that seeing behind you may understand how fiercely the tiger bites.