22. WHOM GOD PROTECTS
I had now given up all
hope of returning to India in the near future. I had promised my wife that
I would return home within a year. The year was gone without any prospect
of return, so I decided to send for her and the children.
On the boat bringing them to
South Africa, Ramdas, my third son, broke his arm while playing with the
ship's captain. The captain looked after him well, and had him attended
to by the ship's doctor. Ramdas landed with his hand in a sling. The doctor
had advised that as soon as we reached home, the wound should be dressed
by a qualified doctor. But this was the time when I was full of faith in
my experiments in earth treatment. I had even succeeded in persuading some
of my clients who had faith in my quackery to try the earth and water treatment.
What then was I to do for Ramdas?
He was just eight years old. I asked him if he would mind my dressing his
wound. With a smile he said he did not mind at all. It was not possible
for him at that age to decide what was the best thing for him, but he knew
very well the distinction between quackery and proper medical treatment.
And he knew my habit of home treatment, and had faith enough to trust himself
to me. In fear and trembling I undid the bandage, washed the wound, applied
a clean earth poultice, and tied the arm up again. This sort of dressing
went on daily for about a month until the wound was completely healed.
There was no hitch, and the wound took no more time to heal than the ship's
doctor had said it would under the usual treatment.
This and other experiments enhanced
my faith in such household remedies, and I now proceeded with them with
more self-confidence. I widened the sphere of their application, trying
the earth and water and fasting treatment in cases of wounds, fevers, dyspepsia,
jaundice, and other complaints, with success on most occasions. But nowadays
I have not the confidence I had in South Africa, and experience has even
shown that these experiments involve obvious risks.
The reference here, therefore,
to these experiments is not meant to demonstrate their success. I cannot
claim complete success for any experiment. Even medical men can make no
such claim for their experiments. My object is only to show that he who
would go in for novel experiments must begin with himself. That leads to
a quicker discovery of truth, and God always protects the honest experimenter.
The risks involved in experiments
in cultivating intimate contacts with Europeans were as grave as those
in the nature cure experiments. Only those risks were of a different kind.
But in cultivating those contacts I never so much as thought of the risks.
I invited Polak to come and
stay with me, and we began to live like blood brothers. The lady who was
soon to be Mrs. Polak and he had been engaged for some years, but the marriage
had been postponed for a propitious time. I have an impression that Polak
wanted to put some money by before he settled down to a married life. He
knew Ruskin much better than I, but his Western surroundings were a bar
against his translating Ruskin's teaching immediately into practice. But
I pleaded with him: 'When there is a heart union, as in your case, it is
hardly right to postpone marriage merely for financial considerations.
If poverty is a bar, poor men can never marry. And then you are now staying
with me. There is no question of household expenses. I think you should
get married as soon as possible.' As I have said in a previous chapter,
I had never to argue a thing twice with Polak. He appreciated the force
of my argument, and immediately opened correspondence on the subject with
Mrs. Polak, who was then in England. She gladly accepted the proposal,
and in a few months reached Johannesburg. Any expense over the wedding
was out of the question, not even a special dress was thought necessary.
They needed no religious rites to seal the bond. Mrs. Polak was a Christian
by birth, and Polak a Jew. Their common religion was the religion of ethics.
I may mention in passing an
amusing incident in connection with this wedding. The Registrar of European
marriages in the Transvaal could not register marriages between black or
coloured people. In the wedding in question, I acted as the best man. Not
that we could not have got a European friend for the purpose, but Polak
would not brook the suggestion. So we three went to the Registrar of marriages.
How could he be sure that the parties to a marriage in which I acted as
the best man would be whites? He proposed to postpone registration, pending
inquiries. The next day was a Sunday. The day following was New Year's
Day, a public holiday. To postpone the date of a solemnly arranged wedding
on such a flimsy pretext was more than one could put up with. I knew the
Chief Magistrate, who was head of the Registration Department. So I appeared
before him with the couple. He laughed and gave me a note to the Registrar,
and the marriage was duly registered.
Up to now the Europeans living
with us had been more or less known to me before. But now an English lady
who was an utter stranger to us entered the family. I do not remember our
ever having had a difference with the newly married couple, but even if
Mrs. Polak and my wife had some unpleasant experiences, they would have
been no more than what happen in the best-regulated homogeneous families.
And let it be remembered that mine would be considered an essentially heterogeneous
family, where people of all kinds and temperaments were freely admitted.
When we come to think of it, the distinction between heterogeneous and
homogeneous is discovered to be merely imaginary. We are all one family.
I had better celebrate West's
wedding also in this chapter. At this stage of my life, my ideas about
had not fully matured, and so I was interesting myself in getting all my
bachelor friends married. When, in due course, West made a pilgrimage to
Louth to see his parents, I advised him to return married if possible.
Phoenix was the common home, and as we were all supposed to have become
farmers, we were not afraid of marriage and its usual consequences. West
returned with Mrs. West, a beautiful young lady from Leicester. She came
of a family of shoemakers working in a Leicester factory. Mrs. West had
herself some experience of work in this factory. I have called her beautiful,
because it was her moral beauty that at once attracted me. True beauty
after all consists in purity of heart. With Mr. West had come his mother-in-law
too. The old lady is still alive. She put us all to shame by her industry
and her buoyant, cheerful nature.
In the same way as I persuaded
these European friends to marry, I encouraged the Indian friends to send
for their families from home. Phoenix thus developed into a little village,
half a dozen families having come and settled and begun to increase there.