Part 6 out of 7
child, whose head had become wedged between a box and the footboard of
the canoe, and was being slowly killed. In the early dawn the journey
was resumed to Okopedi beach, and thence she crawled over the weary
miles to Use.
II. "REAL LIFE"
"I must go. I am in honour bound to go." It was her constant cry. She
heard that services were being held regularly at Ikpe on Sundays and
week-days, and yet no one knew more than the merest rudiments of
Christian truth; none could read. A teacher had gone from Asang, but he
was himself only at the stage of the first standard in the schools, and
could impart but the crudest instruction. They were groping for the
light, and worshipping what to most of them was still the Unknown God,
and yet were already able to withstand persecution. The pathos of the
situation broke her down. "Why," she cried, "cannot the Church send two
ladies there? Why don't they use the money on hand for the purpose? If
the wherewithal should fail at the end of two years, let them take my
salary, I shall only be too glad to live on native food with my
Once more she went up, and once more she stood ashamed before their
reproaches. She could not hold out any longer. "I am coming," she said
decisively. She was not well--she was never well now--she had bad
nights, was always "tired out," "too tired for anything," yet she went
forward to the new life with unshakeable fortitude. In a short time she
was back with fifty sheets of corrugated iron and other material for
the house. "I am committed now," she wrote. "No more idleness for me. I
am entering in the dark as to how and where and when. How I am to
manage I do not know, but my mind is at perfect peace about it, and I
am not afraid. God will carry it through. The Pillar leads."
She did not care much for the situation that had been granted; it was
low-lying, and she was anxious to conserve her health for the work's
sake, but she had faith that she would be taken care of. Palm trees
bordered the site on three sides, and amidst these the monkeys loved to
romp. "These palms," she said, "are my first joy in the morning when
the dawn comes up, pearly grey in the mist and fine rain, fresh and
cool and beautiful." She lived in two rooms at the back of the church,
with a bit of ground fenced off for kitchen, and her furniture
consisted of a camp-bed and a few dishes. But she was chiefly out of
doors, for she had as many as two hundred and fifty people engaged in
cutting bush, levelling, and stumping. Despite the discomfort and worry
incidental to such conditions, she was quite happy. The natives as a
whole were hostile to white people; they wanted neither them nor their
religion; but there was nothing martial or predatory about "Ma," and
her very helplessness protected her. And there was that in her blood
which made her face the conflict with zest; it always braced her to
meet the dark forces of hell, and conquer them with the simple power of
Her fearlessness was as marked as ever. One Sunday, during service,
there was an uproar in the market. She went out and found a mob
fighting with sticks and swords, a woman bleeding, and her husband
wounded and at bay. She seized the man's wrist and compelled quiet, and
soon settled the matter by palaver. On another occasion the Government
sent native agents with police escort to vaccinate the people, as
small-pox was rife. They resented the white man's "juju," and there was
much excitement. The conduct of the agents enraged the crowd, guns
appeared, and bloodshed was imminent, when an appeal was made to "Ma."
She succeeded in calming the rising passions, and in reassuring the
people as to the purpose of the inoculation. "This poor frail woman,"
she said, "is the broken reed on which they lean. Isn't it strange? I'm
glad anyhow that I'm of use in protecting the helpless." The people
said if she would perform the operation they would agree, and she sent
to Bende for lymph, and was busy for days. It was a difficult task, the
people were suspicious, and she had to banter and joke and coax when
she herself was at fainting point. Apart from this she doctored men and
women for the worst diseases, nursed the sickly babies, and generally
acted her old part of a "mother in Israel."
"It is a real life I am living now," she wrote, "not all preaching and
holding meetings, but rather a life and an atmosphere which the people
can touch and live in and be made willing to believe in when the higher
truths are brought before them. In many things it is a most prosaic
life, dirt and dust and noise and silliness and sin in every form, but
full, too, of the kindliness and homeliness and dependence of children
who are not averse to be disciplined and taught, and who understand and
love just as we do. The excitements and surprises and novel situations
would not, however, need to be continuous, as they wear and fray the
body, and fret the spirit and rob one of sleep and restfulness of
Use was still her headquarters, and she often traversed the long
stretch of Creek, though the journey always left her terribly
exhausted. On one occasion, when she had arrived at Use racked with
pain, she was asked how she could ever endure it. "Oh," she said, "I
just had to take as big a dose of laudanum as I dared, and wrap myself
up in a blanket, and lie in the bottom of the canoe all the time, and
managed fine." She often met adventures by the way. Once, after
thirteen hours in the canoe, she arrived at Okopedi beach late in the
evening, along with Maggie and Whitie and a big boy baby. Stowing the
baggage in the beach house they started in the dark for Use, "Ma"
carrying a box with five fowls and some odds and ends, and Maggie, who
was ill, the baby. When they reached the house they found they had no
matches and were afraid of snakes, but she was so tired that she lay
down as she was on a bed piled high with clothes, the others on the
floor, the baby crying itself to sleep. At cock-crow fire was obtained
from the village, and a cup of tea made her herself again, and ready
for the inevitable palavers. Again, she went up to Ikpe with supplies
by night; the water had risen, she had to lie flat to escape the
overhanging branches, and finally the canoe ran into a submerged tree
and three of the paddle boys were pitched into the water. Not long
afterwards she left Ikpe at 6.30 A.M., was in the canoe all night, and
reached the landing-beach at 5.30 on Christmas morning with the usual
On this occasion she received a message, "Ekereki said I was to tell
you that his mother is asleep"--referring to the death of one of the
first members of the congregation, a gentle and superior woman for whom
she had a great regard. The wording of the message made her realise how
soon the Gospel had the power of changing even the language of a
people. Some time previously Annie's two-year-old boy had died, and the
question of a Christian burial-place had been considered by the
congregation. Heathen adults were buried in the house and the children
under the doorstep. It seemed cruel to leave bodies out in the cold
earth, but of their own volition the members secured a piece of ground
and laid the child there; and now this woman was placed by his side,
the first adult to obtain a Christian burial in that part of Ibibio.
On New Year's eve she was down with fever, and was very weak, but, she
wrote, "My heart is singing all the time to Him Whose love and tender
mercy crown all the days." In the middle of the night she was obliged
to rise. "My 'first-feet' were driver ants, thousands and thousands of
them, pouring in on every side, and dropping from the roof. We had two
hours' hard work to clear them out."
III. THE AUTOCRATIC DOCTOR
Returning from Ikpe on one occasion in 1911, she found that a tornado
had played havoc with the Use house, and immediately set to, and with
her own hands repaired it. The strain was too great for her enfeebled
frame, and symptoms of heart weakness developed. She had nights of high
fever and delirium, and yet so great was her power of will, that she
would rise next day and teach and work, while on Sundays she took the
services, although she was unable to stand. "I had a grand day," she
would say, "notwithstanding intense weakness."
Dr. Robertson of Itu had gone home on furlough, and there came to take
his place, Dr. Hitchcock, a young, eager, clear-headed man, as
masterful in his quiet way as "Ma." He had proposed going to China in
the service of the Church, but agreed meanwhile to put in a year at
Itu. She watched him for a time with growing admiration, and saw the
curiosity of the natives turn rapidly to confidence, then to
appreciation, then to blind devotion and worship. When she looked at
the great crowds flocking day after day to the dispensary and hospital,
she thought of the scene of old when the poor and the halt and the
maimed gathered round Christ. "A rare man," she said, "a rare
Christian, a rare doctor. A physician for soul and body. I am beginning
to love him like a son." And like a son he treated her. Although he had
scarcely a minute to spare from his work, he ran up every second day to
Use to study her. He believed that she was not being nourished. That
there were grounds for his suspicions her own diary records. There was
money for her in Duke Town, she had often cheques lying beside her, but
it was not always easy to obtain ready cash, and sometimes she ran
short. On June 14 she wrote:
_Market Morning_.--Have only 3d. in cash in the house; sent it with 2
Ikpats (the first Efik schoolbook) and New Testament to buy food, and
sold all 3 books for 6d. Got 5 small yams, oil, and shrimps, with
pepper and a few small fresh fish.
It was on the following morning as early as six o'clock that the doctor
called to examine her again. His decision was that she was not to go to
Ikpe, she was not to cycle, she was to lie down as much as possible.
She laughed, and on the Sunday went to church and conducted two
services; but she almost collapsed, and when the doctor came next day
he ordered her to take to her bed, and not go to any more meetings
until she obtained his permission. Mary had at last met her equal in
resolution. "He is very strict," she confessed, "but he is a dear man.
Thank God for him."
A trip to Ikpe which she had planned for the Macgregors had to be
cancelled, and they decided to go to Use instead, and aid and abet the
doctor in his care of her. She got up to receive them, and then wrote,
"The doctor has sent me back to bed under a more stringent rule than
ever. Very stern. I dare not rise." "You must eat meat twice a day,"
the doctor said. "I'm not a meat eater, doctor," she rejoined. His
reply was to send over a fowl from Itu with instructions as to its
cooking. "Why did you send that fowl, doctor?" she asked next day,
"Because it could not come itself," was all the satisfaction she got.
It was not the first fowl that came from Itu--the next came cooked--
while the Macgregors telegraphed to Duke Town for their entire stock.
"What a trouble you dear folk take," she sighed.
"You will have to go to Duke Town for a change," suggested the doctor
one day. "Na, na," she replied; "I've all my plans laid, and I cannot
draw a salary and not do what I can." "You have done so well in the
past," remarked Mr. Macgregor, "that you need not have any qualms about
that." "I've been paid for all I've done," was her retort. But the
doctor insisted, and the very thought of leaving the station and the
household work unattended to, put her in a fever. "Of course," she
said, "to the doctor my health is the only thing, but I can't get rest
for body while my mind is torn about things. He is vexed, and I am
vexed at vexing him."
Not satisfied with the progress she was making, the doctor transferred
her to Use, where she was under his constant observation. "Life is
hardly worth living," she complained, "but I'm doing what I can to help
him to help me, so that I can be fit again for another spell of work."
That was her one desire, to be well enough to go back to the bush. A
messenger from Ikpe came down to find out when she was returning.
"Seven weeks," was the doctor's firm reply. "I may run up sooner than
that," was hers. "I'm quite well, if he would only believe it."
But it was well on towards the end of the year before she was, in her
own words, out of the clutches of the "dearest and cleverest and most
autocratic Mission doctor that ever lived." She literally ran away, and
was up at Ikpe at once, exultant at having the privilege of ministering
again to the needs of the people. There was a throng at the beach to
welcome her. She was soon as busy as she had ever been, though she was
usually carried now to and from church and other meetings. Jean she
placed at Nkanga as teacher and evangelist, the people giving her 1s.
per week and her food, and "Ma" providing her clothes. It was
astonishing to her to see how she had developed. An insatiable reader,
she would place a book open anywhere in order that she might obtain a
glimpse of the words in passing, reminding "Ma" of her own device in
the Dundee weaving-shed. Her knowledge of the Bible was so thorough and
correct that the latter considered her the best Efik teacher she knew.
Soon she gathered about her some two hundred men and women from the
upper Enyong farms, who were greatly pleased with her preaching. She
came over to Ikpe for Christmas, the first the household had spent in
that savage land, and there was a service in the church, which was
decorated with palms and wreaths of ferns. Mary told the story of
Bethlehem, and the scholar lads, of their own accord, marched through
the town singing hymns.... About this time Miss Slessor rendered
important service to the Mission by her testimony before an Imperial
Government Commission, which had been sent out to Investigate the
effects of the import, sale, and consumption of alcoholic liquor in
Southern Nigeria. She provided very convincing evidence of the
demoralisation caused through drink, but with keen intuition she felt
that little would come of the "palaver," and she was right.
IV. GOD'S WONDERFUL PALAVER
Her attitude to money was as unconventional as her attitude to most
things. It had no place in her interests; she never thought of it
except as a means of helping her to carry out her projects. "How I wish
we could do without it!" she often used to say. "I have no head for it,
or for business." Her salary she counted as Church money, and never
spent a penny of it on herself except for bare living, and until the
last years the girls received nothing but food and their clothes, "You
say," she wrote to one giver, "that you would like me to spend the
money on my personal comfort. Dear friend, I need nothing. My every
want is met and supplied without my asking." Her belief was thus
expressed: "What is money to God? The difficult thing is to make men
and women. Money lies all about us in the world, and He can turn it on
to our path as easily as He sends a shower of rain." Her faith was
justified in a marvellous way, for throughout all these years and
onwards to the end she obtained all she needed, and that was not
little. She required funds for extension, for building, for furniture,
for teachers' wages, for medicines, for the schooling of her children,
and many other purposes, and yet she was never in want. Nothing came
from her people, for she would not accept collections at first, not
wishing to give them the impression that the Gospel was in any way
connected with money. It came from friends, known and unknown, at home
and abroad, who were interested in her and in her brave and lonely
struggle. There was scarcely a mail that did not bring her a cheque or
bank-draft or Post-Office order. "It often happens," she said once,
"that when the purse is empty, immediately comes a new instalment. God
is superbly kind in the matter of money. I do not know how to thank
Him. It is just wonderful how we ever fail in our trust for a moment."
On one occasion, when she was a little anxious, she cried, "Shame on
you, Mary Slessor, after all you know of Him!"
Her attitude towards all this giving was one of curious detachment. She
looked upon herself as an instrument carrying out the wishes of the
people at home who supplied the means, and she gave them the honour of
what was accomplished. Their gifts justified her going forward in the
work; each fresh L10 note she took as a sign to advance another stage,
so that, in one sense, she felt her Church was backing up her efforts.
As she regarded herself as being owned by the Church, all the money she
received was devoted exclusively to its service; even donations from
outside sources she would not use for personal needs. One day she
received a letter from the Governor conveying to her, with the "deep
thanks of the Government," a gift of L25 to herself, in recognition of
her work. The letter she valued more than the money, which she would
only accept as a contribution towards her home for women. All the sums
were handed over to Mr. Wilkie or Mr. Macgregor, who banked them at
Duke Town, and they formed a general fund upon which she drew when
necessary. She looked upon this fund as belonging to the Mission
Council, to be used for extension purposes either up the Cross River or
the Enyong Creek, or for the Home for Women and Girls when the scheme
matured, and she never sought to have control of it. Mr. Wilkie was
always afraid that she was not just to herself, and she had sometimes
to restrain him from sending more than she required. It was the same
later when Mr. Hart, C.A., had charge of the accounts. This explains
why, on more than one occasion, she was reduced to borrowing or selling
books in order to obtain food for herself and her household. There was
money in abundance at Duke Town, but she would not ask it for private
necessities. Sometimes also she was so remote from civilisation that
she was unable to cash a cheque or draft in time to meet her wants.
Many a hidden romance lay behind these gifts that came to her--the
romance of love and sacrifice and devotion to Christ. One day there
arrived a sum of L50, accompanied by a charming letter. Long she looked
at both with wonder and tears. Her thoughts went back to the Edinburgh
days, when she was a girl, on the eve of leaving for Calabar. One of
her friends then was a Biblewoman, who was very good to her. Always on
her furloughs she had gone to see her in the humble home in which she
lay an invalid, or as Mary expressed it, "lingering at the gate of the
city." She thought she must now be dependent upon others, for she was
old and frail. And yet here she had sent out L50 to help on her work.
If there was romance in the giving, there was pathos in the spending.
Acknowledging sums she was bidden expend upon herself, she would go
into detail as to her purchases--a new Efik Bible to replace her old
tattered copy, the hire of three boys to carry her over the streams,
seed coco yams for the girls' plots, a basin and ewer for her guest-
room--"I can't," she said, "ask visitors to wash in a pail,"--a lamp,
and so on. She sought to explain and extenuate the spending of every
penny. "Is that extravagant?" "Is that too selfish?" she anxiously
asked. After enumerating a number of things which she intended to buy
for Ikpe house, she said, "Does that seem too prosaic? But it will
clarify your views of Mission work, and make them more practical and
real, for, you see, the missionary cannot go about like Adam and Eve,
and the natives must be taught cleanliness and order, and be civilised
as well as Christianised."
Her own small financial affairs had been in the hands of her old friend
Mr. Logic, Dundee, whose death in 1910 sent her into silence and
darkness for weeks. He had been like a father to her; to him, indeed,
she chiefly owed the realisation of her dream to be a missionary. She
did not know for a time how she stood, and as her purse was nearly
empty, she was growing anxious, when a small amount arrived from a
friend, to whom she wrote: "I have been praying for a fortnight for
money to come from somewhere, as I have been living on 7s. given to the
children by a merchant here who is a great friend of our household. So
your gift is a direct answer to prayer. '_Before they call I will
answer_.'" She applied to Mr. Slight, another tried friend, who had
been Treasurer of the United Presbyterian Church, and took a warm
personal interest in all the missionaries, and after the Union was the
accountant of the United Free Church. He made matters simple and clear
to her understanding and set her fears at rest--she had no debts of any
kind save debts of gratitude. Mr. Slight's death in 1912 again made her
feel orphaned. "I had no idea how much I leant on him till he was
removed, and it seems now that my last link with the old Church has
snapped. What he has done for me through a score of years I can never
acknowledge warmly enough." In later years her affairs at home were
managed by Miss Adam.
Congregations continued to send her boxes of goods, whilst her own
friends were unceasing in their thought for her. "I should never
mention a want," she told them, "because you just take it up and bear
the burden yourselves, and it makes me ashamed. Here are all my needs
in clothing for the children and myself anticipated, and here are
luxuries of food and good things, and all steeped and folded in the
most delicate and tender sympathy and love. Surely no one has so many
mercies as I have." She saw few pretty things, and had never the
opportunity of looking into a shop window, so that the arrival of these
boxes was an occasion of much pleasurable excitement to her and to the
girls. Her only trouble was that she could not hand on some of the food
to others; "When you have a good thing, or read a good thing, or see a
humorous thing, and can't share it, it is worse than having to bear a
trial alone." She was particularly grateful for a box of Christmas
goods that came in 1911. She had been much upset by the local food, and
she ate nothing but shortbread and bun for a week, and that made her
The people about her, too, were kind. Women would bring her presents of
produce; one, for instance, gave her fifteen large yams and a half-
crown bag of rice, and a large quantity of shrimps. "You are a stranger
in these markets," she said, "and the children may be hungry."
V. WEAK BUT STRONG
She met with a severe disappointment early in 1912. The Calabar Council
was willing to send two ladies to Ikpe, but thought it right to obtain
a medical report on the site which had been given for the house. This
was unfavourable; the Creek overflowed its banks for four hundred paces
on one side and thirty on the other, and the surroundings of the house
would be muddy and damp. She would not, however, acquiesce in the
judgment thus passed, and remained on, and prosecuted the work as
usual. The Council was very anxious for her to take a furlough, and her
friends, personal and official, in Scotland were also urging her to
come for a rest. She had now never an hour of real health or strength,
and was growing deaf, and felt like "a spluttering candle," and she
began to think it would be the wisest thing to do. As the idea took
definite shape in her mind, she looked forward with zest to the renewal
of old friendships. "We shall have our fill of talk and the silences
which are the music of friendship." The East Coast of Scotland was now
barred to her by medical opinion, but she had visions of the lonely
hills of the south, and of Yarrow, and all that Border country where
she had spent so many happy days, and would go there, away from the
crowds and the rush.
Discerning a note of pity in the letters from Scotland, she bade her
friends not to waste their sympathy upon her. "I am just surrounded
with love," she wrote. It was to the children she referred. "I wake up
in the early dusk of the dawn and call them, and before I can see to
take my Bible, the hot cup of tea is there, and a kiddie to kiss me
'Good-morning' and ask, 'Ma, did you sleep?'" It was not wonderful that
she loved those black girls. They had been with her from their birth.
She had nursed them and brought them up and taught them all they knew,
and they had been faithful to her with the faithfulness which is one of
the most remarkable traits in the African nature. Mary could never
abide the superior folk who referred slightingly to them because of
their black skin, and she was too proud to justify her feelings towards
them. Alice, the "princess," had now grown into a fine womanly girl,
quiet and steady and thoughtful. One night in the dark she crept to
"Ma's" side and shyly told her that some months before she had given
her heart to Christ. It was a moment of rare joy. As neither Alice nor
Maggie was betrothed-though often sought after-and they had no legal
protector against insult, she decided to send them for training to the
Edgerley Memorial School, where they would be under the influence and
care of Miss Young, another capable agent whom she had led to become a
missionary and with whom she had a very close and tender friendship.
She regarded her as an ideal worker, for she had been thoroughly
trained in domestic science. "I would have liked that sort of training
better than the Normal training I got at Moray House," she said.
Meanwhile, as she was forbidden to cycle, her thoughts harked back to
her old plan of a "box on wheels." She had never been reconciled to a
hammock. "I feel a brute in it, it seems so selfish to be lying there,
while four boys sweat like beasts of burden. To push a little carriage
is like skilled labour and no degradation." She, therefore, wrote to
Miss Adam, whom she called the "joint-pastor" of her people, to send
out a catalogue of "these things." Miss Adam was, however, unwell, and
the ladles of Wellington Street Church, Glasgow, hearing of the
request, promptly despatched what was called a Cape cart, a kind of
basket-chair, capable of being wheeled by two boys or girls. The gift
sent her whole being thrilling with gratitude, as well as with shame
for being so unworthy of so much kindness, but her comfort was that it
was for God's work, and she took it as from Him.
The vehicle proved a success, but the success proved the undoing of her
furlough. "Instead of going home as I had planned, in order to get
strength for a wider range of work, I shall stay on and enjoy the
privilege of going over ground impossible for my poor limbs." On one of
the first drives she had, she went in search of a site for a new and
larger church which she had determined to build., and was gathering
material for, at Use, and then she planned to go to Ikpe via Ikot
Ekpene by the new Government road, opening up out-stations wherever she
could get a village to listen to the message. Her aim, indeed, was
nothing less than to plant the whole Ibibio territory with a network of
schools and churches. She seemed to grow more wonderful the older and
frailer she became.
The spurt lasted for a time, but again the terrible weakness troubled
her, and she had to conduct household affairs from a couch. School work
was carried through on the verandah, and when she spoke in the church
she was borne there and back. She came to see that only a real change
would do her permanent good, and that it would be true economy to take
a trip home, even for the sake of the voyage, which, much as she feared
the sea, always invigorated her. What made her hesitate now was the
depleted condition of the Mission. "We were never so short-handed
before," she said, "and I can do what others cannot do, what, indeed,
medical opinion would not allow them to try. No one meddles with me,
and I can slip along and do my work with less expenditure of strength
than any," Had there been some one to fill her place she would have
gone, but she was very reluctant to shut the doors of the stations for
so long a period. How she regarded the idea may be gathered from a
letter to a friend who had given her some domestic news:--
These little glimpses, like pictures, of home and the old country, of
family ties and love, make me long for just one long summer day in the
midst, if only as an onlooker, and for the touch of loving hands and a
bit of family worship in our own tongue, and maybe a Sabbath service
thrown in with a psalm and an old-fashioned tune, and then I should
feel ready for a long spell of work. But I should fret if it were to
take me from this, my own real life and home and bairns. This life is
full, the other lies at the back quiescent, and is a precious
possession to muse on during the night or in the long evening hours
when I'm too tired to sleep and the light is not good enough to read or
sew, or mostly when I'm not well and the doldrums come very near. But I
should choose this life if I had to begin again; only I should try to
live it to better purpose.
Another respite or two carried her into the middle of the year, when
her opportunity of a furlough was lost. She said she would have to hold
on now for another winter--or go up higher. In September she completed
thirty-six years as a missionary, and took humorous stock of herself:
"I'm lame and feeble and foolish; the wrinkles are wonderful-no
concertina is so wonderfully folded and convulated. I'm a wee, wee
wifie, verra little buikit--but I grip on well, none the less." "Ay,"
said an old doctor friend to her, "you are a strong woman, 'Ma.' You
ought to have been dead by ordinary rule long ago--any one else would."
VI. HER FIRST HOLIDAY
Anxiety as to her health deepened both in Calabar and Scotland, and
pressure was brought upon her to take a rest. One of her lady friends
on the Women's Foreign Mission Committee, Miss Cook, appreciated her
fear of the home winter, and wrote asking her to take a holiday to the
Canary Islands, and begged the kindness at her hands of being allowed
to pay the expense. "I believe," she said, "in taking care of the
Lord's servant. I am afraid you do not fully realise how valuable you
are to us all, the Church at home, and the Church In Nigeria." The
offer, so delicately put, brought tears to Mary's eyes, and it made her
wonder whether after all she was safeguarding her health enough in the
interests of the Church. As soon as the matter became a duty, she gave
it careful consideration, resolving to abstain from going up to Ikpe,
and to go down to Duke Town instead, where she would consult the
Wilkies and the Macgregors. But she would not dream of the cost of any
change being borne by Miss Cook, and she asked Miss Adam to find out if
her funds would allow of her taking a trip. There was no difficulty
regarding clothing. Among the Mission boxes she had received was one
full of warm material, and she surmised that God was on the side of a
Her friends at Calabar did not hesitate a moment; they wanted her off
at once. She went to consult her old friend, Dr. Adam, the senior
medical officer, that "burning and shining light," as she called him,
who first showed her through the Hospital, where she spoke with loving
entreaty to every patient she passed, and left many in tears. After a
thorough examination, he earnestly besought her to take the next boat
to Grand Canary. Still she shrank from the prospect. It was a selfish
thing to do; there were others more in need of a holiday than she, it
was a piece of extravagance, it would involve closing up the stations.
And yet might it not be meant? Might it not be of the nature of a good
investment? Might she not be able for better work? Might it not do away
with the necessity for a furlough in the following year? She decided to
It was arranged that Jean should accompany her, and that she should put
up at the Hotel Santa Catalina, Las Palmas. Letters from Government
officials were sent to smooth the way there for her. Miss Young and
others prepared her outfit, and made her, as she said, "wise-like and
decent,"--she, the while, holding daily receptions, for she was now
regarded as one of the West African sights, and every one came to call
upon her. Mr. Wilkie managed the financial side, and gave the cash-box
to the Captain. When she transhipped at Forcados. it was handed to the
other Captain, and he on arrival at the Islands passed it on to the
manager of the hotel. On board she was carried up and down to meals,
and received the utmost kindness from officers and passengers alike.
The Captain said he was prouder to have shaken hands with her than if
she had been King George. The season at Grand Canary had not begun,
and there were very few visitors at the hotel. Those who were there saw
a frail nervous old lady, followed by a black girl who was too shy to
raise her eyes. "We were certainly a frightened pair," Mary afterwards
confessed. But the management attended to her as if she were a
princess. "What love is wrapped round me!" she wrote. "All are kind,--
the manager's family, the doctor's family, and the visitors. It is
simply wonderful. I can't say anything else."
The first days were spent in the grounds, drinking in the pure air,
watching the changing sea and sky, and admiring the brilliant
vegetation. The English flowers, roses and geraniums and Michaelmas
daisies and mignonette, were a continual joy, whilst the crimson clouds
piled above the sapphire sea often made her think of the "city of pure
gold." Later, she was able to ascend the hill at the back, and "there"
she says, "I sat and knitted and crocheted and sewed and worked through
the Bible all the day long, fanned by the sea-breeze and warmed by the
sun, and the good housekeeper sent up lunch and tea to save my walking,
and in the silence and beauty and peace I communed with God. He is so
near and so dear. Oh, if I only get another day in which to work! I
hope it will be more full of earnestness and blessing than the past."
It was her first real holiday, but she felt it had been worth waiting a
lifetime for. There was something infinitely pathetic in her ecstasy of
enjoyment and the gratitude for the simple pleasures that came to her.
Only one thread of anxiety ran through her days, the thought of the
appalling expense she was incurring, for she had made up her mind that
the cost was to be paid out of her own slender funds.
A lady in the hotel, with whom she formed an intimate and lasting
friendship, and who saw much of her, gives this impression of her
She made many friends, her loving sympathy, her simplicity, her keen
interest in all around her, her sense of humour and love of fun
endearing her to all. The entire negation of self which she evinced was
remarkable, as well as her childlike faith and devotion to her Master
and to His service. A lady was heard to say, "Well, after talking to
Miss Slessor I am converted to foreign missions," Her mind was ever
upon her work and her children, and she used often to say she was
idling, there was so much to be done, and so little time in which to do
it. Of all the people I have met she impressed me the most as the
perfect embodiment of the Christian life,
Jean waited upon her mother-mistress with a patient and thoughtful
devotion which was a wonder to those who saw it. She wore her Calabar
frock and bandana, and had she not been a very sane person, her head
would have been turned, for she was a favourite with every one, and was
given as many ribbons as would serve her all her life. But she was as
shy the day she left as when she arrived.
The departure came in the middle of the night. A general and his aide-
de-camp and a merchant each offered to convoy her to the ship, and
pleaded that they had conveyances, but the manager of the hotel would
not hear of it, saw her himself safely into her cabin, and placed the
cash-box once more into the Captain's hands. It was the same steamer by
which she had travelled to the Islands, so that she felt at home. On
board also was Dr. Hitchcock, on his way out again to take up work at
Uburu, a large market town in the far north amongst a strangely
interesting tribe. How she envied him, young and strong and
enthusiastic, entering on such glorious pioneer work! At Accra the
Governor of the Gold Coast, a stranger to her, sent off to the steamer
a bouquet of flowers, with an expression of his homage and best wishes
for a renewal of her health.
When she arrived at Duke Town Dr. Adam again examined her, assisted by
Professor Leiper of the London School of Tropical Medicine, and the
verdict was: "Good for many years-if you only take care."
She was given written directions as to the care of her health, and
these she regarded with a rueful face. "Life will hardly be worth
living now," she said. "But for the work's sake I must obey. God wants
us to be efficient, and we cannot be so except by living decently and
taking care of the wonderful body He has given us."
She turned up her Bible and found the verse she had marked as a
"promise" before leaving: "_But if the Spirit of Him that raised up
Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the
dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by the spirit that dwelleth
in you_." She saw now that this meant something besides the
Resurrection, for the voyage, the climate, the food, and the rest had
worked in her a miracle, and she realised more than ever what prayer
and faith could do for the body as well as for the spirit. There was a
lesson in it, too, she thought, for the Church. She had had a month at
sea, and a month in the Islands, with the best of care and food, and no
furlough had ever done her more good. She felt that a visit to Scotland
would not have rested her so much. There was the bustle and excitement
and movement and speaking-of all the bugbears of a furlough, she said,
speaking at meetings was the chief. If only the hard deputy work at
home could be eliminated from the missionaries' programme, they would
have a happier and a better time. But here the personal equation
obscured her judgment. For to abandon the system would be to do away
with the intimate touch and association by which interest in the
Mission Field is so largely maintained. To many missionaries, also, the
duty of telling to the congregations up and down the country the story
of their work is one of the chief pleasures of their furlough.
Laden with chemical foods, medicines, and advice, she returned to Use
to find that the entire cost of the trip had been defrayed by Miss
Cook, who wrote: "I am only sorry that I did not beg you to stay longer
in order to reap more benefit. Come home next year; we all want to see
But a furlough home was far from her thoughts. She rejoiced in her new
strength, and set herself with grim determination to redeem the time.
She was now doing double work, carrying on all the activities of the
settled station at Use, and establishing her pioneer centre at Ikpe.
During the next two years she travelled between the two points,
sometimes using the canoe, but more often now the Government motor car,
which ran round by Ikot Ekpene and dropped her at the terminus, five
miles from Ikpe. David was the driver, and she had thus always the
opportunity of seeing Mary, his wife, who lived at Ikot Ekpene.
At Use the work had gone on as usual; there had been no backsliding,
and the services and classes had been kept up by the people themselves;
and she proceeded with the building of the new church, which was
erected under her superintendence and without any outside help. When
she was at Ikpe she placed Annie's husband--they were both now members
of the Church--in charge, and he conducted the services, but Miss
Peacock, whom Mary styled her "Bishop," gave general supervision.
On one of her early journeys up to Ikpe she met with a slight accident,
a pellet of mud striking one of her eyes. The people were alarmed at
the result, and would have gone off at once to the District
Commissioner had she not restrained them. Some native workmen passing
his station later mentioned the incident, and within a few minutes the
officer had a mounted messenger speeding along the tract to Ikpe, with
an urgent order to the people to get her conveyed in the Cape cart to
the nearest point on the road, where he would have a motor car waiting.
Next morning, although it was market day, the members of the church
left everything and took her to the spot indicated. Here were the
District Commissioner and a doctor, with eye-shade and medicine and
every comfort, and with the utmost despatch she was taken round the
Government road to Use. The hurt was followed by erysipelas, and she
was blind for a fortnight and suffered acute pain and heavy fever; but
very shame at being ill after so fine a holiday made her get up
although the eye was swollen and "sulky," and she was soon in the midst
of her work at Ikpe as if nothing had happened.
Building, cementing, painting, varnishing, teaching, healing, and
preaching filled in the days. A visitor found her once at 10 A.M.
finishing school in a shed. She continued it in the afternoon. Then she
visited the yards of the people, and they crowded round her and brought
her gifts of food. Later she leant against a fallen tree trunk and
talked to one and another. In the gathering dusk she sat on a small
stool and attended to the sick and dressed their sores. After dinner
some men and lads arrived carrying lamps, and she held her catechumens'
class--a very earnest and prayerful gathering.
The burden of the untouched region around her vexed her mind. Sometimes
she was depressed about it all, and said she would need to fill her
letters with nonsense, for "it would not bear writing." Time and again
she sought to impress her friends with the needs of the situation: "The
last time I was at school I counted eight hundred women and girls
running past in eager competition to secure the best places at the
fishing-grounds where the men had been working all the morning, and
these are but a fraction of our womankind. But what can I do with
supervision of the school and church and dispensary and household?" She
did not pretend that she worked her station properly, and she pointed
out how necessary settled, steady, persevering teaching was. "These
infant churches," she said, "need so much to be instructed. The adults
are illiterate, and the young need systematic teaching of the Bible.
They are an emotional people, and are fain to keep to speaking and
singing and long prayers, and the sterner practical side of
Christianity is set aside. They are children in everything that
matters, and when we have led them to Christ we are apt to forget how
much more they need in order to make a strong, upright, ethical
character on which to build a nation. Then we need a literature, and
this, too, is the work of the Church. What ails it? _Is it not
forgetting that God can't give His best till we have given ours?"_
With all its bustle it was a very lonely and isolated life she led.
There was no mail delivery, and she had to depend mainly on the
kindness of Government officials to forward her correspondence. "I have
been here seven weeks," she wrote on one occasion, "without one scrap
from the outside--letter or paper--nothing to read but the old
advertisement sheets of papers lining the press and the boxes. If you
wish for the names of hotels or boarding-houses In any part of Europe--
send to me. I have them all on my tongue's end." It was a red-letter
day when a stray white visitor entered the district, for there would be
tea and a talk, and a bundle of newspapers would be left--one never
forgets another in this way in the bush. She was amused to receive a
note from Scotland asking her to hand on a message to Dr. Hitchcock at
Uburu. "Do you know?" she replied, "you are nearer him than I am--the
quickest way for me to send it is via Britain!"
Life was not without its menace from wild beasts, the forest being full
of them, and the doors had always to be closed and fastened at night to
keep them out. Snakes were prevalent, and prowled about the building,
and many a fight Jean and the others had with the intruders.
VIII. FRIENDSHIPS WITH OFFICIALS
Throughout these years, as always, "Ma" Slessor's relations with the
Government officials were of the most friendly nature, It was
remarkable that although she was essentially feminine and religious,
and although she was engaged in Mission work, she attracted men of all
types of character. Much of this power was due to her intense sympathy,
which enabled her to get close to minds that would otherwise have been
shut to her. What she wrote of another applies to herself:
What a strange thing is sympathy! Undefinable, untranslatable, and yet
the most real thing and the greatest power in human life! How strangely
our souls leap out to some other soul without our choosing or knowing
the why. The man or woman who has this subtle gift of sympathy and
magnetism of soul possesses the most precious thing on earth. Hence it
is rare. So few could be trusted with such a delicate, sensitive,
Godlike power and hold it unsullied that God seems to be hampered for
want of means for its expression. Is that the reason that He made His
Son a "Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief"?
Most of these men had no interest in missions, and some did not believe
in them. "The more I see of mission work in West Africa the less I like
it," said one frankly to her. "Give me the genuine bushman, who
respects his ancestral deities and his chief and himself.... But if all
missionaries were like you!" None of these men belonged to her own
Church; three of her favourites were Roman Catholics. Her introductions
to some were of the most informal character. One day a stranger
appeared and found her busy on the roof of the house. "Well," she said,
eyeing him critically, "what do you want?" He stood, hat in hand.
"Please, Ma'am," he replied meekly, "I'm your new District
Commissioner--but I can't help it!" She was delighted, and took him
into the inner circle at once. As frequent changes took place in the
staff, the number whose acquaintance she made gradually increased,
until she became known and talked of in all the colonies on the West
Coast and even in other parts of the world.
The official view of her work and character differed little from any
other. Says one who knew her long and well:
I suppose that a pluckier woman has rarely existed. Her life-work she
carried out with immeasurable courage and capacity. Her strength of
character was extraordinary, and her life was one of absolute
unselfishness. She commanded the respect and confidence of all parties,
and for years I would have personally trusted to her judgment on native
matters in preference to all others. Shrewd, quick-witted, sympathetic,
yet down on any one who presumed, she would with wonderful patience
hear all sides equally. Her judgment was prompt, sometimes severe, but
always just. She would speak much of her work to those who, she knew,
took an interest in it, but very rarely of herself.
My first impression of her was that she was a lady of great strength of
mind and sound common sense. Also that for one who had lived so many
years in the bush wilds she was very well read and up-to-date on all
Mr. T. D. Maxwell, who knew her in Okoyong days and to the end, says:
I am sure that her own Church never had a more loyal adherent, but her
outlook on this life--and the next--was never narrow. Her religion was
above religions--certainly above religious differences, I have often
heard her speak of the faiths and rituals of others, but never without
the deepest interest and sympathy. She was young to the end; young in
her enthusiasm, her sympathy, her boundless energy, her never-failing
sense of humour, her gift of repartee, her ability always to strike the
apt--even the corrosive--epithet. A visit to her was, to use one of her
own phrases, "like a breath o' caller air to a weary body"--and in West
Africa that means incomparably more than it can at Home.
It was a peculiarly affectionate relation that existed between her and
many of those men whom she regarded as "the strength and the glory of
Britain." A witty member of the Mission once said they were given over
to "Mariolatry"--an allusion to her first name. They never were near
without visiting her, and often made long journeys for the privilege of
a talk. They were delighted with her sense of humour, and teased her as
well as lionised her. Half the fun of a visit to her was taking her
unawares, and they often threatened to bring their cameras and
"snapshot" her on sight, "Ma," they would write before calling, "get
your shoes on, we are coming to tea!"
They wrote her about their work and ambitions and worries as if she
were a mother or sister, and discussed the political and racial
problems of the country as if she were a colleague, always with a
delicate deference to her experience and knowledge, sometimes veiled in
light banter. "I am at your feet, Ma," said one, "and your wisdom is
that of Solomon." They often twitted her about being able to twist them
round her little finger: "You break our hearts, and get your own way
shockingly." On one occasion she received a grave and formal Government
typewritten communication about land, which ended in this way:
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant.
When they left the Colony they kept up the friendship. Many were bad
correspondents, yet from the remotest parts of the world they wrote
letters, as long as her own, full of kind enquiries about her work and
the bairns, and begging for a reply.
On her part she wrote them racy and informative letters; and she also
got into touch with their mothers, sisters, and wives at home, who
welcomed her news of the absent ones, and were good to her in turn. One
lady she delighted by praising her husband. "Naturally," the lady
replied, "I agree with you, and you are welcome to court and woo him as
much as you like!" A high official brought out his wife, and she wrote
Mary from a desire to make her husband's friends hers also. She ended
in the usual way, but he added, "She sends her kindest regards--_I_
send my love!" The nature of some of the friendships formed at home
through officials may be surmised from an order she gave for a silver
gift, value L5, to be sent to the first-born child of one of her
"chums." It went to the mother, and the inscription was "From one whom
his father has helped."
Very notable was the kindness shown by the Government to her as woman
and missionary. Instructions were issued that she was to be allowed to
use any and every conveyance belonging to them in the Colony, on any
road or river, and that every help was to be afforded to her. Workmen
were lent to her to execute repairs on her houses. Individual members
sought opportunities to be kind to her. She was taken her first motor-
car drive by a Commissioner. The highest officials did not think it
beneath them to buy feeding-bottles and forward them on by express
messenger. They sent her gifts of books, magazines, and papers--one
forwarded _The Times_ for years--and at Christmas there would come plum
puddings, crackers, and sweets. One dark, showery night the Governor of
Southern Nigeria, Sir W. Egerton, and several officials appeared at her
house to greet her, and left a case of milk, two cakes, and boxes of
chocolates and crystallised fruit. "The Governor is a Scotsman," she
wrote, "and must be sympathetic to mission work, or else why did he
come with his retinue and all to a mud house and see me at that cost to
his comfort and time on a wet night?" Lord Egerton was charmed with
her. Replying to some remark of his she said, "Hoots, my dear laddie--I
It was the great anxiety of her official friends that she should not
outlive her powers: her influence generally was so great that to them
the thought of this was distressing. They were always very solicitous
about her health, writing to her frequently to say that she should take
life more easily, "Take care of yourself, Ma--as much as you can."
"Don't be so ridiculously unselfish." "Learn a little selfishness--it
will do you all the good in the world," was the advice showered upon
her. When she had the Court work she was often urged to take a month's
holiday. On hearing of her intention to go to Ikpe one wrote, "Dear
Lady, I hate the idea of your going so far into the bush. Don't go.
There are plenty of men willing and eager to be of service to you, but
away up there you are far away from help or care." Another warned her
against the people; "But," he added, "we know you will go in spite of
Latterly they became more importunate. "Do be careful," one wrote. "Do
take quinine and sleep under a net and drink filtered water." Her
custom of going hatless into the blazing sunshine was long a sore
point, and when they failed to persuade her of the danger, they
resorted to scheming. "We know why you do it," they said artfully. "You
know you have pretty hair and like to display it uncovered, imagining
that it gets its golden glint from the sun. Oh, vanity of vanities!
Fancy a nice, quiet missionary being so vain!" Certainly no argument
could have sent her more quickly to the milliner's.
IX. POWER THROUGH PRAYER
The power which enabled Mary Slessor to live so intensely, to triumph
over physical weakness, and to face the dangers of the African bush,
and gave her the magnetic personality that captivated the hearts of
white and black alike, was derived from her intimate and constant
contact with the Unseen, and the means of that contact were prayer and
She had an implicit belief in the reality of prayer, simply because she
had tested its efficacy every day of her life, and had never found it
to fail. When her old friend, Mr. Smith of Dundee, asked for her
testimony to include in his book, _Our Faithful God: Answers to
Prayer_, she wrote:
My life is one long daily, hourly, record of answered prayer. For
physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given
marvellously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel
subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything
that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a
full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer. I
know God answers prayer. I have proved during long decades while alone,
as far as man's help and presence are concerned, that God answers
prayer. Cavilings, logical or physical, are of no avail to me. It is
the very atmosphere in which I live and breathe and have my being, and
it makes life glad and free and a million times worth living. I can
give no other testimony. I am sitting alone here on a log among a
company of natives. My children, whose very lives are a testimony that
God answers prayer, are working round me. Natives are crowding past on
the bush road to attend palavers, and I am at perfect peace, far from
my own countrymen and conditions, because I know God answers prayer.
Food is scarce just now. We live from hand to mouth. We have not more
than will be our breakfast to-day, but I know we shall be fed, for God
She realised that prayer was hedged round by conditions, and that
everything depended upon the nature of the correspondence between earth
and heaven. She likened the process to a wireless message, saying, "We
can only obtain God's best by fitness of receiving power. Without
receivers fitted and kept in order the air may tingle and thrill with
the message, but it will not reach my spirit and consciousness." And
she knew equally well that all prayer was not worthy of being answered.
Those who were disappointed she would ask to look intelligently at
first causes as well as regretfully at second causes. To one who said
he had prayed without avail, she wrote: "You thought God was to hear
and answer you by making everything straight and pleasant--not so are
nations or churches or men and women born; not so is character made.
God is answering your prayer in His way." And to another who was in
similar mood she wrote: "I know what it is to pray long years and never
get the answer--I had to pray for my father. But I know my heavenly
Father so well that I can leave it with Him for the lower fatherhood."
In this as in other things she had to confess that she herself often
failed. "I am a poor exponent of faith," she would say. "I ought to
have full faith in our Father that He will do everything, but I am
ashamed of myself, for I want to 'see,' and that sends faith out of
court. I never felt more in sympathy with that old afflicted father
before in his prayer, 'Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief'--every
syllable suits me."
She had absolute faith in intercession, "Prayer," she said, "is the
greatest power God has put into our hands for service--praying is
harder work than doing, at least I find it so, but the dynamic lies
that way to advance the Kingdom." She believed that some of her
official friends, the Empire-builders, were kept straight in this way:
"The bands that mothers and sisters weave by prayer and precept are the
strongest in the world." There was nothing she asked her friends more
often at home to do than to pray for the Mission and the workers.
"Don't stop praying for us," she pleaded, and her injunctions were
sometimes pathetic in their personal application: "Pray that the power
of Christ may rest on me, that He may never be disappointed in me or
find me disobedient to the heavenly vision when He shows the way, pray
that I may make no false moves, but that the spirit will say, 'Go here
and go there,'" She was always convinced that it was the prayers of the
people in Scotland that carried her on and made the work possible. "It
is so customary to put aside those who, like myself, are old-fashioned
and unable for the burden and heat of the day; but in my case it is
care and love and forbearance all the way through; and all this I trace
back to the great amount of prayer which has ever followed me, to the
quality more than the quantity of that intercession. Prayer-waves
pulsate from Britain all through Calabar." To one who had always prayed
for her she also wrote: "I have always said that I have no idea how and
why God has carried me over so many funny and hard places, and made
these hordes of people submit to me, or why the Government should have
given me the privilege of a magistrate among them, except in answer to
prayer made at home for me. It is all beyond my comprehension. The only
way I can explain it is on the ground that I have been prayed for more
than most. Pray on, dear one-the power lies that way." She also urged
prayer for the Mission Committees, Home and Foreign--"We expect them to
do so much and to do it so well, and yet we withhold the means by which
alone they can do it."
Almost invariably, when acknowledging money, she would beg the donors
to follow up their gifts by prayer for workers. "Now," she would say,
"let us ask God earnestly and constantly for the greater gift of men
and women to fill all these vacant posts."
She used to pray much for her friends in all their circumstances,
asking for many things for them that they desired, but eventually her
petition came to be, "Lord give them Thy best and it shall suffice them
Her religion was a religion of the heart, and her communion with her
Father was of the most natural, most childlike character. No rule or
habit guided her. She just spoke to Him as a child to her Father when
she needed help and strength, or when her heart was filled with joy and
gratitude, at any time, in any place. He was so real to her, so near,
that her words were almost of the nature of conversation. There was no
formality, no self-conscious or stereotyped diction, only the simplest
language from a quiet and humble heart. It is told of her that when in
Scotland, after a tiresome journey, she sat down at the tea-table
alone, and, lifting her eyes, said, "Thank ye, Faither--ye ken I'm
tired," in the most ordinary way, as if she had been addressing her
friends. On another occasion, in the country, she lost her spectacles
while coming from a meeting in the dark. Snow lay on the ground, and
there seemed little hope of recovering them. She could not do without
them, and she prayed simply and directly: "O Father, give me back my
spectacles." Early next morning the milk-boy saw something glistening
in the snow, and she had the spectacles in time to read her Bible. A
lady asked her how she obtained such intimacy with God. "Ah, woman,"
she said, "when I am out there in the bush I have often no other one to
speak to but my Father, and I just talk to Him." It was in that way she
kept herself in tune with the highest. Sometimes, when there had been
laughing and frivolous conversation before a meeting, she lost "grip,"
and was vexed and restless and dumb. But a little communion with her
Father would put matters right. Once, oppressed by a similar mood, she
foresaw complete failure, but the minister who presided, as if
conscious of her attitude, prayed in such a way as to lift the burden
from her heart, and she was given not only a calm spirit but also an
How natural it was for her to pray is evidenced by an incident at one
of the ladies' committee meetings at Duke Town. Speaking of it she
said, "All the ladies were laughing and daffin' over something of a
picturesque sort, when it struck me we ought to be praying rather, and
I just said so, and at once the whole lot jumped up, and we went into
the nearest room and were closeted with our Master for a bit."
Sometimes in the Mission House she would call the children to prayer
at odd hours, and Jean would remonstrate and say, "Ma, the time is long
past." "Jean," she would reply, "the gate of heaven is never shut." She
said she wished to teach them that they could pray anywhere and at any
time, and not only in the church.
"_We are not really apart," she once wrote to a friend in Scotland,
"_for you can touch God direct by prayer, and so can I_."
X. BIBLE STUDENT
She had always been an earnest and intelligent student of the Bible,
and to her it grew more wonderful every day. She believed that the
spread of the Book was the simplest and most natural and direct way of
preaching the Gospel and keeping it pure. Her own reading of it was
mainly accomplished in the early morning. As soon as there was light
enough--which was usually about 5.30--she took a fine pen and her Bible
and turned to the book she was studying in the Old or New Testament.
She underlined the governing words and sentences as she went along in
her endeavour to grasp the meaning of the writer and the course of his
argument; word by word, sentence by sentence, she patiently followed
his thought. Sometimes it would be three days before she completed a
chapter, but she would not leave it until she had some kind of idea as
to its purpose. She was her own commentator, and on the margin she
noted the truths she had learned, the lessons she had received, her
opinions about the sentiment expressed, or the character described. If
her expositions were not according to the ordinary canons of exegesis,
they had the merit of being simple, fresh, and unconventional. Her
language was as candid, often as pungent, as her remarks in
conversation, its very frankness and force indicating how real to her
were the life and conditions she was studying. When one Bible was
finished she began another, and repeated the process, for she found
that new thoughts came as the years went by. On one occasion we find
her interested in a recent translation, reading it to discover whether
it gave any clearer construction of the more difficult passages. Such
sedulous study had its effect upon her character and life; she was
interpenetrated with the spirit of the Book; it gave her direction in
all her affairs--in her difficult palavers she would remark, "Let us
see what the Bible says on this point "--it inspired her with hope,
faith, and, and courage. Often after an hour or two of meditation over
it she felt no desire for ordinary literature, all other books seeming
tame and tasteless after its pages.
Some of the later Bibles she used are in existence, and bear testimony
to the thoroughness of her methods. Almost every page is a mass of
interlineations and notes. As one turns them over, phrases here and
there catch the eye, arresting in thought and epigrammatic in form;
such for instance as these:
_God is never behind time.
If you play with temptation do not expect God will deliver you.
A gracious woman has gracious friendships.
No gift or genius or position can keep us safe or free from sin.
Nature is under fixed and fine laws, but it cannot meet the need of
We must see and know Christ before we can teach.
Good is good, but it is not enough; it must be God.
The secret of all failure is disobedience,
Unspiritual man cannot stand success.
There is no escape from the reflex action of sin; broken law will have
Sin is loss for time and eternity,
The smallest things are as absolutely necessary as the great things.
An arm of flesh never brings power.
Half the world's sorrow comes from the unwisdom of parents.
Obedience brings health,
Blessed the man and woman who is able to serve cheerfully in the second
rank--a big test,
What they were weary of was the punishment, not the sin that brought
Slavery never pays; the slave is spoiled as a man, and the master not
It were worth while to die, if thereby a soul could be born again._
She was deeply interested in the earlier books, for the reason that the
moral and social conditions depicted there were analogous to those she
had to deal with in Calabar. Every now and then we come across such
remarks as these: "a Calabar palaver," "a chapter of Calabar history,"
"a picture of Calabar outside the gospel area," "this happens in
Okoyong every day." Her own experience helped her to understand the
story of these primitive civilisations, and her annotations on this
part of the Bible have always the sharpest point. To the sentence, "The
Lord watch between me and thee," she appends, "Beautiful sentiment, but
a _mbiam_ oath of fear." Jacob she terms in one place a "selfish
beggar." Of Jael she says, "Not a womanly woman, a sorry story; would
God not have showed her a better way if she had asked?" and of part of
Deborah's song she remarks, "Fine poetry, poor morality." Her opinion
of Jezebel is thus expressed: "A vain, heartless woman; one of the most
revolting stories in history, and she might have been such a queen! A
good woman is the most beautiful thing on earth, but a bad woman is a
source of corruption.... Had only her soul been clean, dogs might have
been welcome to her body."
The book of Job was always well studied. She had a great admiration for
the "upright, wealthy, greatly-feared, and respected sheikh," and
little or none for the "typical philosophers," who came, Calabar
fashion, and sought to comfort him in his day of trial. Job was not, in
her view, rebellious; "his plaint was a relief to his own spirit, and
an appeal for sympathy." On chapter ix. she writes, "The atmosphere is
clearing; the clouds are scattering, glimpses of sunshine, of
starlight, and beauty; the spirit swings back on its pivot and begins
to see God." Farther on, "Right, Job--turn to God I Leave it to Him--
the fit of depression will pass when you have sounded the depths, and
profit will follow." On chapter xviii. her comment is, "Such is the
friendship of the world"; on chapter xx., "How very sure the fool is in
his explanations of God's ways"; on chapter xxvii., "The ultimate
values of life shall be fixed not by wealth but by character"; on
chapter xxviii., "A very mine of gems and precious things--exquisitely
lovely thoughts and language. Poetry like this in the earliest ages of
the world!" Of Elihu's contentions in chapter xxxiv., "A good many
truths, but served up with bitter herbs, not with love": on chapter
xxxvii., "Beautiful poetry, but a very bleak and barren picture of God;
hard, arbitrary, selfish, self-centred, striking terror into His works,
and compelling obedience and service. Nature cannot reveal Him, Elihu!"
On the next chapter, "The God of nature turns the picture, and behold
it is no more destruction and blind force, but beneficence and gracious
design and beauty,"--and so on to the end, when we read, "The voice of
humanity demands some such judgment and relief from the mysteries and
trials and misrepresentations of this life. The poem rings true to the
cry of the spirit of man. Is there a modern drama in any language to
come near to this ancient production?"
The New Testament was brooded over and absorbed with a care and
thoroughness which must have made every line and every thought familiar
to her. St. John was her favourite book. A few specimens of her remarks
may be given:
"_When the people saw that Jesus was not there ... they took shipping
and came ... seeking for Jesus_."
"The secret of our failures in winning men; they don't find Him with
"_The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came and tempted Him that He
would, show them a sign from Heaven_."
"Man's cry for the moon! What does a sign prove? Is God known by
"_And the people asked Him saying, What shall we do then? ... 'He
that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none_.'"
"By love serve."
"_And He said unto them, When I sent you without purse and scrip and
shoes lacked you anything_?"
"No, Lord, never was lack with Thee!"
"_And her parents were astonished, but He charged them that they should
tell no man what He had done_."
"Life will tell. Speech will end in chatter."
These illustrations, picked out at random, will serve to indicate what
an intimate companion she made of her Bible, and with what loving
patience and insight she studied it for the illumination and deepening
of her spiritual life.
XI. BACK TO THE OLD HAUNTS
Eight years had passed since she had left Akpap, and she had never been
back, although she had paid flying visits to the hinterland. Miss
Amess, with whom her friendship had grown close, was in charge, being
minister, doctor, dispenser, teacher, and mentor to the people, and
with her was Miss Ramsay. They had built a new church, which was almost
ready, and Miss Amess determined to bring "Ma" over and have the
Macgregors to meet her. "Ma" could not resist the temptation to revisit
the scenes of her greatest adventures, and went in July 1913, taking
the children with her, except Mary, and ordering the others at Calabar,
including the two youngest, Whitie and Asuquoe, who were also natives of
the district, to join her.
Her arrival caused much excitement, and her stay was one long
reception. All day the Mission House was like a market; from far and
near the people came to _koem_ their Mother. She could scarcely be got
to come to meals. On the first day when she was called, she said,
"These are my meat to-day," and then she told those about her what
Christ had said to His disciples after His conversation with the woman
of Samaria. Such love as the ladies saw on both sides they had not
thought possible between missionary and native. She seemed to remember
the names of most of the people, and all the details of their family
histories. One after another came forward and talked and revived
stories of the old times. But she seemed vexed to see so many who were
interested in her, and with no concern for the things of God, and with
these she pled earnestly to come to church and give themselves to the
Saviour. Two notable figures were Mana, and the mother of Susie, Iye.
The children were a source of astonishment to all. These healthy,
happy, handsome young people, the babies that had been cast away or
despised--it was wonderful! They gazed upon them in a kind of awe. A
few of the older and women held aloof from the twins, but not in any
offensive way, and the general disposition was to ignore the stain on
There was a touching meeting with Ma Eme, who could not conceal her
affection and joy at seeing her old "Ma" again. Much to Mary's sorrow
she was still a heathen, and a very zealous one, as she sacrificed
daily to the spirits in the crudest way, with food and blood, in
abasement and fear. So strong was superstition rooted in her nature
that she would not touch the twins, although she confessed it was
marvellous that they had grown up.
The two women, bound by so strange a friendship, talked long about the
old days. It was, "Do you remember this?" "Do you remember that?" and
then would follow reminiscences of the killing time when they worked
hand in hand in secret for the preservation of life. Nothing that "Ma"
could say would induce Ma Eme to throw off her allegiance to her
African beliefs, and at the end of a long day she left, the same kind,
high-bred, mysterious heathen woman that she had always been. She died
shortly after. "My dear old friend and almost sister," said Mary, "she
made the saving of life so often possible in the early days, It is sad
that she did not come out for Christ. She could have been the honoured
leader of God's work had she risen to it. I cannot fancy Okoyong
without her. She made a foolish choice, and yet God cannot forget all
she was to me, and all she helped me to do in those dark and bloody
A service was arranged, but the throng who wished to hear "Ma" was so
great that it had to be held in the unfinished church, and thus Mary
had the joy of being at the first service. Over four hundred well-
dressed natives were present, the largest number ever in a church in
Okoyong, She thought of the wild old days, and contrasted them with the
present scene. "Truly," she said to herself, "one soweth and another
reapeth." She spoke for half an hour, giving a strong, inspiring talk
on the duties of those who are believers to the world around them.
With her usual thought for others she sat down and wrote to her old
comrade, Miss Wright (Mrs. Rattray), in England, giving her the details
of her visit, and accounts of the people. "This house," she said, "is
full of memories of you, and you are not forgotten." She described with
pride and hope the way in which the ladies were conducting the station,
and praised them in her usual generous manner. After she left, it
seemed to them that they had greater influence among the people than
XII. ROYAL RECOGNITION
The friends who had known her long were noticing that a new softness
and graciousness were stealing into her life. She never grew
commonplace, and was original as ever, but her character was mellowing,
and her love and humility becoming even more marked. "Love will
overcome all," was her belief, and love, for her, included all the
qualities of the Christian faith--simplicity, kindness, patience,
charity, selflessness, confidence, hope. In herself she was conscious
of many faults. "I don't half live up to the ideal missionary life,"
she said, with a sigh. "It is not easier to be a saint here than at
home. We are very human, and not goody-goody at all." Often she was
deep in the valley of humiliation over hasty words spoken and
opportunities of service let slip. But she was saved from depression by
her sense of humour. She laughed and dared the devil. Of one who had
just come out she wrote: "She is very serious, and will take life and
work more in the sense of tasks than of a glad free life ... we want
one to laugh, to hitch on to the yoke, and joke over all that we don't
like." She also became less uncompromising in her views. "My opinions,"
she acknowledged, "may not just suit every one, and it is possible
other people may be right and I far wrong.... But although we differ
amongst ourselves, and some things differentiate our work, we are all
in full friendship and sympathy with one another."
It was not possible for self-abnegation to go farther than it did in
her case. She was unable to see that she had done anything out of the
common. "I have lived my life very quietly and in a very natural and
humble way," she would say, and all the credit of her work was given to
God. "It isn't Mary Slessor doing anything, but Something outside of
her altogether uses her as her small ability allows." She did not say
"my plan," or "my scheme"--if she did she checked herself and said,
"What God wants me to do." And she always paid generous tribute to her
girls, who, she said, did more than she did, though no one counted it
to them. She was distressed to receive letters praising her. One who
saw her go out from Scotland to her life-work, and had lovingly
followed her career ever since, wrote saying that her reward would be a
starry crown in the glory land, and her reply was, "_What would I do
with starry crowns except to cast them at His feet?_"
Nothing illustrated this feature so notably as an event which occurred
shortly after her visit to Akpap. Two years previously a few of her
friends in Calabar, official and missionary, had talked over the
possibility of securing some public recognition of her unique service.
Mr. Macgregor wrote an account of her life-work for the Government, but
it was not until Sir Frederick Lugard arrived as Governor-General of
the united provinces of Northern and Southern Nigeria that action was
taken. He was so struck by the heroic record placed before him that he
at once sent home a strong recommendation to the Secretary of State for
the Colonies, that Mary's services should be brought to Royal notice.
The Secretary of State was equally impressed, and laid the matter
before the Chapter-General of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of
Jerusalem in England, of which the King is Sovereign Head, and the Duke
of Connaught Grand Prior. This was done, and she was selected for
admission. When she received the august-looking document asking her to
accept the honour, she said to herself, "Now, who has done this? Who am
I, and what is my distinction that I should have it?" She was in a
quandary how to answer, but eventually complied with the request,
thinking that would be the end of it. Shortly afterwards came a letter
stating that "her selection had received the sanction and approval of
His Most Gracious Majesty King George V." The Chapter-General, it was
stated, elected her "with particular satisfaction" to the grade of
Honorary Associate. This honour is only conferred on persons professing
the Christian faith, who are eminently distinguished for philanthropy,
or who have specially devoted their exertions or professional skill in
aid of the objects of the Order. The Badge of an Honorary Associate is
a Maltese Cross in silver, embellished at the four principal angles
with a lion passant guardant and a unicorn passant alternately. It is
worn by women on the left shoulder, attached to a black watered riband
tied in a bow.
"Ma" kept the matter a secret, even after she had received the diploma,
but the silver Badge came through the Colonial Office to the
Commissioner at Duke Town, and the honour being made public, her
friends schemed to get her down to a formal presentation. It was a
difficult problem, but it was solved by a letter being sent stating
that the decoration had arrived, that, of course, she would not care to
have it given to her surreptitiously, and that her duty was to come to
Calabar for it. A telegraph form, ready for dispatch, and bearing the
one word "Coming," was enclosed. They knew she would get agitated, and
have no peace until the telegram was out of her hands. Their surmise
was correct. She sent the message and committed herself to the ordeal.
She was not elated at the prospect of appearing at a Government
function; neither was she perturbed, and she went about her duties as
usual. Miss Gilmour, one of the new lady agents, tells how on the eve
of her departure she gathered the bairns for family worship, and in a
simple and beautiful way read to them the story of the Good Shepherd
and the sheep that followed. Then, as an illustration, she took the
story of Peter's denial of our Lord, and showed that Peter sinned
because he followed "afar off." "Eh, bairns," she said, "it's the wee
lassie that sits beside her mother at meal times that gets all the nice
bittocks. The one who sits far away and sulks disna ken what she
misses. Even the pussy gets more than she does. Keep close to Jesus the
Good Shepherd all the way."
A Government launch was sent to bring her down, an honour she felt as
much as the bestowal of the insignia, and as she walked up to the
Macgregors' house--the Wilkies were in Scotland--there were many who
were struck by the dignity of her appearance, dressed though she was in
an old but clean cotton dress, straw hat, and list shoes. On the
Saturday afternoon she went to an "At Home" at the Barracks, where she
was lionised in a quiet way. She attended a cricket match--she was an
advocate of all games, and believed they were excellent civilising
agencies--and also witnessed a sham fight, where the "enemy" dressed
themselves up as "savage warriors" and attacked the Barrack Hill. She
was much impressed, and kept saying to her old friend the Hon. Horace
Bedwell, the Provincial Commissioner, "That's just splendid. Look how
the officers lead them." On Sunday she spoke for three-quarters of an
hour to the boys in the Institute in Efik, and no boys could have
listened more intently. On Monday night she was at Government House at
The presentation took place in the Goldie Memorial Hall on Wednesday,
Mr. Macgregor presiding. All the Europeans who could leave business
gathered to do her honour. The boys of the Training Institute and the
girls of the Edgerley Memorial School were also in the hall. Had it not
been that Mr. Bedwell and Mrs. Bedwell were beside her, and that it was
the former who made the presentation, she would have felt more nervous.
As it was, she sat with her head buried in her hands. Mr. Bedwell spoke
of her unique work and influence, and of her genius for friendship in a
way that overcame her. She could not at first find words to reply. She
turned to the children, and in Efik told them to be faithful to the
Government, for at bottom it was Christian, and, as the silver Badge
proved, friendly to missions. Self was thus entirely effaced in her
interpretation of the act; she made it appear to be the recognition by
the Government of the work of the Mission, and suggested that it might
have been awarded to any member of the staff.
Having recovered her courage she spoke in English, saying that she did
not understand why she had been chosen for the distinction, when others
deserved it more. In a closing passage of simple beauty, she gave God
the honour and praise for all she had been able to accomplish. What had
impressed her at the sham fight was that the officer was always in
front leading and guiding his men. "If I have done anything in my life
it has been easy because the Master has gone before."
Forty Europeans came to tea at the Macgregors', and "Ma" was brilliant
and entertaining. On Thursday her hosts convoyed her back to Use. Mrs.
Bedwell had presented her with a bouquet of flowers, and she had taken
out the roses--of which she was passionately fond--and placed them in
water. On her arrival she carefully planted one of the stems, and to
her great joy it grew and flourished in front of her hut.
"Don't think," she wrote home, "that there is any difference in my
designation. I am Mary Mitchell Slessor, nothing more and none other
than the unworthy, unprofitable, but most willing, servant of the King
of Kings. May this be an incentive to work, and to be better than ever
I have been in the past."
At home the honour was made known chiefly through the _Record_ of the
Church, in which Mr. Macgregor gave some account of her romantic
career. He stipulated that this should be anonymous, for "Ma," he
feared, would never forgive him if she knew that he had been connected
with it. She gained a repute that was akin to fame. Congratulations
from all parts of the world were showered upon her. Sir Frederick
Lugard sent his "hearty and sincere congratulations, and his
appreciation of this well-earned reward for her life of heroic self-
sacrifice." In confusion of heart she escaped to Ikpe. "I shall never
look the world in the face again until all this blarney and publicity
is over," she said. "I feel so glad that I can hide here quietly where
no one knows about newspapers and _Records_, and do my small portion of
work out of sight."
For a time she was kept busy replying to the correspondence that the
event evoked, and to all she made the same modest reply, that she saw
in the honour "God's goodness to the Mission and her fellow-labourers,
who were levelling and building and consolidating the work on every
side. It is a token that He means to encourage them in the midst of
their discouraging circumstances."
XIII. BATTLE FOR A LIFE
Each new kindness shown her was an incentive to harder service. She
threw herself again into work with an extraordinary keenness.
Dissatisfied with what she was doing at Ikpe, she moved in all
directions in her "box on wheels," prospecting for new spheres of
usefulness, fording rivers, crossing swamps, climbing hills, pushing
through bush, traversing roads that were unsafe and where by the law
people had to go in couples, and often putting up at villages six or
ten miles distant. She saw crowds of people, and hundreds of women and
children in every street, but no light; not even a desire for it,
though here and there she found a disciple or two. She met with more
opposition from the chiefs than she had done in all her experience.
They would not hear of "God fashions," and would not permit teachers to
enter their districts or churches to be built; they forbade all
meetings for worship. She braced herself, body and mind, for the fight.
She spent days in palaver, but they would not give in. She insisted
that at least the right of the disciples to meet and worship in their
own homes must be recognised. When the chiefs saw her face, set with
iron resolution, they were afraid, wavered, and agreed. They then
became quite friendly. "We don't object to schools," they admitted. "We
want our children to learn to read and write, but we want no
interference with our fashions. If houses of God are built, we shall
all die, and we are dying fast enough."
"I shall never give you teachers without the Gospel," she declared. "If
you don't take the one, you won't have the other. But I'm going to
bring both. I shall put up a shed on the roadside, and hold services
there whenever I get a chance."
"All right, Ma," they said with something like admiration. "Come
yourself, but don't send boys."
And then she remembered. "How can this poor tabernacle do it, even with
six lads to push and pull and carry the cart through the streams? But I
have opened the way, and that is something."
In Ikpe itself the currents of heathenism ran deep and strong, and she
found progress as difficult as in Okoyong. But she solved all the
problems in the same fearless way as she had done there. Unlike those
in other centres, the women and girls of the town took no interest in
the work, and would not come forward, and she knew there was no hope
for the community unless she secured their sympathy and attachment to
the cause. At first a few girls had ventured to sit by themselves in
church. Then some village accident made the chiefs believe that their
juju was angry because the girls had forsaken their sacrifices and
deserted the heathen plays, and they placed pressure on them to return.
Some were flogged and made to pray before a clay-pot with an egg in it,
and all were forced out on the moonlight nights to take part in the
plays. "If they don't do that," demanded the chiefs, "how can they have
children for us?" The girls lost courage and forsook the church, but
she did not blame them. "Poor things, they are as timid as hares, and
have never had a choice of what to do until I came. But the chiefs--I
will be hard on them!"
One day she gathered all those who were faithful to the church laws,
and interviewed the chiefs. The spokesman for her party urged that the
antagonism that had been shown should cease; he agreed that any one who
broke the ordinary laws should be punished, but no girl or young man
should be compelled to sacrifice or pray to idols, or be ostracised or
fined for fearing God. The words were received with scornful looks and
laughs, the chiefs being hardly able to restrain themselves, but they
had a wholesome fear of "Ma," and were never outwardly disrespectful in
her presence. They looked at her. She kept a severe and solemn face,
and they were a little nonplussed.
"Ma, have you heard?" they asked,
"Am I not here?" she replied.
Taking the gift of rods that had been offered, the chiefs retired. When
they returned they said: "Ma, we hear. Let the present of rods lie, we
accept of it, and we promise that we will respect God's laws, in regard
to the joining in our sacrifices; and in regard to the Sabbath, we
shall respect it and leave our work; but we will _not_ join in the
confusions of the church, that we cannot do."
"God will doubtless be immensely pleased and benefited by your wondrous
condescension," said she with good-humoured sarcasm, and they laughed
heartily and tried to be friendly, but Mary airily told her people to
rise and go.
Fearing she was not pleased, the chiefs made to accompany her.
"I'm going round to see a woman in the next street," said Mary
pointedly. They stopped dead at once. Here was the "confusion" they
referred to, for the woman was a twin-mother.
It was the old weary battle over again,
Her patience and persistence eventually won a victory for the girls.
They were allowed to return to church, but the line was drawn at the
day-school. The chiefs said girls were meant to work and mother the
babies, and not to learn "book." Even the boys who attended, each
burdened with an infant to justify the waste of time, were not allowed
to bring a baby girl. If the baby of the home was a girl, he looked
after her there and his place was vacant. Mary began to think of
teaching the girls apart from the boys, when one day several girls
marched in; she courted them with all the skill she possessed, and
gradually one or two chiefs brought their daughters, who returned with
dresses from the Mission box, and that ended the opposition.
But there was no end to the struggle over twins. Time and again she had
to send the girls to bring babes to the Mission House, and many a
stirring night she had, she sleeping with them in her bed, whilst
outside stealthy forms watched for a chance to free the town from the
defilement of their presence. The first that survived was a boy. The
husband, angry and sullen, was for murdering it and putting the mother
into a hole in the swamp. She faced him with the old flash in her eye,
and made him take oath not to hurt or kill the child. He even promised
to permit it to live, for which magnanimity she bowed ironically to the
ground, an act that put his courage at once to flight. She had come to
realise that it was not good to take twins from their mother, and she
insisted on the child being kept in the home. Jean was sent to stay and
sleep with the woman, and as she had, on occasion, as caustic a tongue
as "Ma," the man had not a very agreeable time. It was decided later to
bring the woman and child to the hut, and there, beneath her verandah,
they rigged up a little lean-to, where they were housed, Jean sleeping
with them at night and keeping a watchful eye on the mother. "It is
really," said "Ma," "far braver and kinder of her to live with that
heathen woman with her fretting habits than it is for her to go out in
the dark and fight with snakes. Jean has as many faults as myself, but
she is a darling, none the less, and a treasure." All going well, they
went on Sunday to church and left the mother. When they returned they
found she had broken the baby's thigh and given him some poisonous
stuff. With care the boy recovered, but they redoubled their
precautions, hoping that when the parents saw how handsome and healthy
and normal the little fellow was, they would consent to keep him.
"Ma" was due at Use, but she would not leave Ikpe until she had
conquered. Another month passed, and she was running out of provisions,
including tea. To be without tea was a tremendous deprivation. She
thought of the big fragrant package that had been sent out as a gift,
and was lying fifty miles away but un-get-at-able, and felt far from
saintly as she resorted to the infusion of old leaves. One Sunday
evening there was a shout. A canoe had arrived, and in it was a box.
With sudden prescience Jean flew for a hammer and chisel and broke it
open, and sure enough inside was the tea from Use. Mary marvelled, and
with all the young folk round her stood and thanked God, the Lord of
the Sabbath, for His goodness. The beverage had never tasted so sweet
and invigorating. Though her thrifty Scottish nature rejoiced that she
had been able to save a little, she confessed that she would never be a
miser where tea was concerned, Whenever she received a package she
invariably sent a share to old Mammy Fuller at Duke Town. "Mammy," she
told a home friend, "has lived a holy and consecrated life here for
fifty years, and is perhaps the best-loved woman in Duke Town. Uncle
Tom in the old cabin is a child in the knowledge of God to Mammy. So we
all love to share anything with her, and she especially loves a cup of
The parents of the twin were at last persuaded to take the big happy
child home and provide for it. Four days later they sent for Jean, who
returned, carrying a weak, pinched form that had death written on its
face. It succumbed shortly afterwards--and that was the end of "Ma's"
strenuous fight and Jean's ten weeks' toil by night and day.
XIV. A VISION OF THE NIGHT
She was down at Use for Christmastide with all her children about her,
and was very happy at seeing the consummation of her efforts to build a
new church. The opening took place on Christmas Day,
"A bonnie kirk it is," she wrote. "Mr. Cruickshank officiated, and was
at his very best. Miss Peacock, my dear comrade and her young helper
Miss Cooper--a fine lassie--came and spent the whole day, so we had a
grand time, the biggest Christmas I've ever had in Calabar. Three tall
flag-poles with trade-cloth flags in the most flaming colours hung over
the village from point to point embracing the old and the new churches.
The people provided a plain breakfast in their several homes for over
eighty of our visitors, who therefore stayed over the forenoon. It made
our Christian population look fairly formidable, and certainly very
reputable as a force for uplifting and regenerating society. It looks
but yesterday that they were a horde of the most unlikely and
unresponsive people one could approach, and yet the Gospel has made of
them already something to prove that it is the power of God unto
salvation to a people and to an individual every and anywhere."
It was to her "one of the reddest of red-letter days," such a day as
only comes at rare intervals, and she fell into the snare, as she said,
"of being carried away with it," with the result that at night she was
down with fever. This kept recurring every alternate night. It was the
harmattan season, in which she always wilted like some delicate flower
in the sun, and she grew so limp and fragile that she could not sit up.
She felt that she would be compelled to go home in the summer with the
Macgregors, but the idea frightened her, chiefly because of the stir
that had been caused by the honour she had received. "I dare not appear
at home after all this publicity," she said. "I simply could not face
the music." As she recovered a little she superintended the work of the
girls outside, and was amused at the way her advice was now received.
"Jean and Annie do not hesitate to set it aside quietly in their
superior way; it often works out better than mine, truth to tell--
though I say it does so by accident!" This was a different house-mother
from the one who ruled years before.
In one of her fever nights, tossing in semi-delirium, she had a vision.
She had been following the Chapman-Alexander Mission in Glasgow with
keen interest, and in the long watches her excited brain continued to
dwell on the meetings. She dreamt, or imagined, that out of gratitude
for what had been accomplished, two young Glasgow engineers had taken a
six months' holiday, and come out with their motor car to Calabar. They
spent their days running up and down the Government Road through
Ibibio, singing and giving evangelistic addresses, she interpreting,
the girls, who were packed into the cars, doing the catering and
cooking, and the Government Rest Houses providing the lodging. "What a
night it was!" she wrote. "The bairns were afraid, for I was babbling
more than usual, but to me it was as real as if it had all happened. We
ran backwards and forwards between Itu and Ikpe, spending alternate
Sundays with the Churches, and taking Miss Peacock to her outstations,
and visiting Miss Welsh, It was magnificent."
The vision did not pass away; she took it as a sign from God; and out
of it in the morning she formulated a scheme which one day she hoped
would be realised. "It is strange," she said, "that it has never dawned
on us before. Here is the Government making use of the motor car to do
its work. Why should not the Church do the same when the roads are
here? It would permit one man to do the work of three, it would save
strength, and make for efficiency. The reason why I have been able to
go farther than my colleagues, is that I have had the privilege of
using Government conveyances by land and water; to have a car and a
mechanic missionary would be supplying us with a grand opportunity for
multiplied service." She expatiated on the matter in letters to her
friends at home, and the longer she thought of the idea, the more it
fired her imagination. Within a few days she was flying over the ground
in the Government car on her way to Ikpe--with many a "ca' canny" to
the driver--and her experience brought the conviction that the
proposal was a good one. It might be too novel a plan for the Church to
take up officially, but she thought wealthy men in Scotland might
materialise her vision as a thank-offering.
XV. STORMING THE CITADELS
The Government road went as far as Odoro Ikpe, where a Rest House, used
as a shelter by officials on the march or on judging tours, and the one
seen by Mr. Macgregor, had been built on the brow of a hill above the
township. It was Saturday when she arrived here, and she climbed the
ascent, taking over an hour to do it, and was captivated by the
situation. It had the widest outlook of any spot she had seen; she
seemed to be on the very roof of the world. A vast extent of bush
stretched out before her, unbroken save by the white road winding down
the hill, and instead of the stifling stillness of the plains, a soft
breeze blew and cooled the atmosphere. It was five miles from Ikpe, and
the centre of a number of populous towns. For months past she had been
praying for an entrance into these closed haunts of heathenism, and as
she sat down in the lonely little Rest House, she made up her mind not
to move a step further until she had come to grips with the chiefs.
Knowing that the Government would not object, she took possession of
the building. It had a doorway but no door; the windows were holes in
the wall high up under the eaves; the floor was of mud, and there was
no furniture of any kind. But these things were of no consequence to
the gipsy-missionary. She slept on a camp-bed borrowed from Miss
Peacock, the girls lay on the mud floor among the lizards, and some
pots and pans were obtained from the people until she could procure her
own from Ikpe. The commissariat department was run on the simplest
scale. A tin of fat, some salt and pepper, tea, and sugar, and roasted
plantain for bread, formed the principal constituents of the frugal
meals. Their clothes were taken off piece by piece as each could be
spared, and washed in a pail from the little prison yard. "Ma's" calico
gown went through the process in the forenoon, was dried on the fence
in the hot sun, and donned in the afternoon, in order, as she
humorously put it, to be ready for "visitors and tea." In her eyes it
was a sort of glorified picnic. She did not pity the girls; she thought
such an experience was better for them as African citizens and
missionaries than a secondary education.
From this high centre as from a fort, she began to bombard the towns in
the neighbourhood. Next day she summoned some disciples from a place
called Ndot, and service was held in the yard. Then the lads pushed her
chair out to Ibam, two miles distant, where she met the headman and his
followers. These were an arrogant, powerful sept--not Ibibios--who had
been allies of the slavers of Aros, and were disliked and suspected by
all. She told them that she wanted the question of Gospel entrance
settled. They looked at her indulgently. "We have no objection to you
coming, Ma," said the chief.
"And the saving of twins, and the right of twin-mothers to live as
women and not as unclean beasts in the bush?" she asked.
"No, no, we will not have it. Our town will spoil."
After much talk they said, "Go home, Ma, and we shall discuss it and
see you again"--the native way of ending a matter.
Her next discussion was with the town of Odoro Ikpe itself. The old
chief was urbane, and gave her every honour. Bringing out a plate with
_3_s. upon it, he said, "Take that to buy food while staying here, as
we have no market yet." She took the money, kissed it, put her hands on
his head, and thanked him, calling him "father," but requested him to
take it and buy chop for the children, and she would eat with him
another day. The old man went away and returned with some yams, which
he asked her to cook and eat. As they talked he gradually lost his
fear, and then she asked him bluntly about his attitude to the Gospel.
He and his big men told her frankly what their difficulties were, and
these she demolished one by one. After two hours' fencing and arguing
the tension gave way to a hearty laugh, and the old chief said, with a
sweep of his hand toward the crowd:
"Well, Ma, there they are, take them and teach them what you like--and
you, young men, go and build a house for book."
"No!" cried "Ma," "we don't begin or end either with a house. We begin
and end with God in our hearts."
A young man came forward, and without removing a quaint hat he wore,
said, "Ma, we can't take God's word if you bring twins and twin-mothers
into our town."
It was out at last. Instead of arguing, "Ma" looked at him as
witheringly as she could and replied; "I speak with men and people
worthy of me, and not with a puny bush-boy such as you have shown by
your manners you are."
Off came the hat, and then "Ma" spoke to him in such a way that the
crowd were fain to cry:
"Ma, forgive! forgive! he does not know any better."
There was no more after that about twins, and when she left she felt
that progress had been made.
Striking while the iron was hot she sent to Ikpe for school books, and
going into the highways and byways, she began to coax the lads to come
and learn. They stood aloof, half-afraid and half-scornful, and would
not respond. Then she adopted a flank movement, and began to speak to
them about the rubber and cocoa which the Government were planting in
the district, and tried to awaken their interest and ambitions by
telling them how the world was moving outside their home circle.
Gradually the sullenness gave way, and they began to ask questions and
to chat. She took the alphabet card, but they shied at the strange-
looking thing, and would not speak. One little fellow who had been at
Ikpe, and knew more than the others, began tremblingly, "A--B--," and
she and Alice who was with her, joined in until one after another
surrendered, and before long all were shouting the letters. By the end
of the week the lads were coming every spare hour for lessons, and
would scarcely give her time to eat.
The Ikpe disciples had ruefully watched this development, and at last
went to her:
"Ma, we are glad you have got a footing out here, but are you forsaking
Her heart ached at the words, and although now reduced to coming and
going in her Cape cart, she determined to give them every alternate
week when she was not at Use. Thus from now onwards she was keeping
three centres going by her own efforts.
After a week at Ikpe in fulfilment of her promise, she returned to
Odoro Ikpe to hold the first Sabbath service. A play was being enacted
in the town, and scores of naked young men and women were dancing to
the compelling throb of the drum. But some Ikpe and Ndot lads came to
support the service, and their presence helped the local sympathisers
to come forward. It was very simple; she said it would have seemed
babyish to Europeans, but it was an epoch to the natives. Another
meeting was held in the afternoon; and at night in the dark square, lit
only by the light of the fires where the women were cooking their meal,
she stood, and again proclaimed, with passionate earnestness, the love
of God and the power of Christ to save and uplift. It was, no doubt, a
day of small things, but she knew from long experience that small
things were not to be despised.
A month later, when she was at Ikpe holding the services, she was
astonished to see thirty of the Odoro Ikpe lads marching into church.
They had grown so interested, that they had come the five miles to hear
her speak. The Ikpe people at once rose and gave the strangers their
seats, finding a place for themselves on the floor. It was pathetic to
see their earnest faces and their ignorance as to what they should do
during the service, which was more elaborate than they had been
accustomed to. Having brought some food they cooked it at the house and
remained all day.
On her return to Odoro Ikpe the chiefs appeared one morning, and asked
her to come out at once and survey the land, and choose a site for a
station. Her heart leapt at the significance of the request. She
happened to be in her night attire, but as it might have been full
Court dress for all they knew, she went and tramped over the land and
chose what she believed would be the best situation in the Mission. It
was on the brow of a hill overlooking a magnificent stretch of country,
across which a cool breeze blew all the time. She immediately planned a
house--one of six rooms--three living rooms above and stores and hall
and girls' rooms below, with a roof of corrugated iron for security
against wind and insects, and prepared to go down to Use to buy the
There was one town still holding out, Ibam (where she had been told to
"go home and they would think about it"), and she prayed that it, too,
might accept the new conditions. On the Sunday before she left for Use,
while she was conducting service, six strange men came in and waited
until all had gone. "We are from Ibam," they said. "Come at once, Ma,
and we will build a place to worship God, and will hear and obey." She
was so uplifted that she seemed to live on air for the next few days.
The villagers of Ibam gave up their best yard to her, and, crowds came
to the meetings.
All the citadels of heathenism in the district had now been stormed.
Sitting one night on the floor of the Rest House, her aching back
leaning against the mud wall, a candle, stuck in its own grease, giving
her light, she wrote to her friends in Scotland, telling them that she
was the happiest and most grateful woman in the world.
XVI. CLARION CALLS
The discovery of coal up in the interior at Udi brought a new interest
into her life, for her far-seeing mind at once realised all the
possibilities it contained. She believed it would revolutionise the
conditions of West Africa. And when a railway was projected and begun
from Port Harcourt, west of Calabar, to Udi, and there was talk of an
extension to Itu, she sought to make her friends at home grasp the full
significance of the development. That railway would become the highway
to the interior, and Calabar would cease to be so important a port.
Great stretches of rich oil-palm country would be opened up and
exploited. She urged the need for more men and women to work amongst
the rank heathenism that would soon collect and fester in the new
industrial and commercial centres. Up there also was the menace of
Mohammedanism. "Shall the Cross or the Crescent be first?" she cried.
"We need men and women, oh, we need them!"
She had been saddened by the closing of stations for furloughs, and the
apathy of the Church at home.
We are lower in numbers in Calabar than ever--fewer, if you except the
artisans in the Institute, than in the old days before the doors were
opened! Surely there is something very far wrong with our Church, the
largest in Scotland. Where are the men? Are there no heroes in the
making among us? No hearts beating high with the enthusiasm of the
Gospel? Men smile nowadays at the old-fashioned idea of sin and hell
and broken law and a perishing world, but these made men, men of
purpose, of power and achievement, and self-denying devotion to the
highest ideals earth has known. We have really no workers to meet all
this opened country, and our Church, to be honest, should stand back
and give it to some one else. But oh! I cannot think of that. Not that,
Lord! For how could we meet the Goldies, the Edgerleys, the Waddells,
the Andersons? How can our Church look at Christ who has given us the
privilege of making Calabar history, and say to Him, "Take it back.
Give It to another?"
She had been deeply interested In the great World's Missionary
Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, and had contrasted it with State
diplomacy and dreadnoughts, but was disappointed that so little
practical result had followed. "After all," she said, "it is not
committees and organisations from without that is to bring the revival,
and to send the Gospel to the heathen at home and abroad, but the
living spirit of God working from within the heart."
All this made her more than ever convinced of the value of her own
policy. She believed in the roughest methods for a raw country like
Nigeria. Too much civilisation and concentration was bad, both for the
work and the natives. There should be, she thought, an office of
itinerating or travelling missionary permanently attached to the
Mission. It would have its drawbacks, as, she recognised, all pioneer
work had, but it would also pay well. She was not sure whether the
missionaries did right in remaining closely to their stations, and
believed that short regular expeditions into the interior would not
only keep them in better health, but give them a closer knowledge of
the people. Not much teaching could be given in this way, but their
confidence would be won, and the way would be prepared for further
advance. Her hope lay in women workers; they made better pioneers than
men, and as they were under no suspicion of being connected with the
Government, their presence was unobjectionable to the natives. They
could move into new spheres and do the spade-work; enter the homes, win
a hearing, guide the people in quiet ways, and live a simple and
natural life amongst them. When confidence had been secured, men
missionaries could enter and train and develop, and build up
congregations in the ordinary manner.
Even then she did not see why elaborate churches should be erected. She
was always so afraid to put anything forward save Christ, that she was
quite satisfied with her little "mud kirks." The raw heathen knew
nothing of the Church as white people understood it. To give them a
costly building was to give them a foreign thing in which they would
worship a foreign God. To let them worship in an environment of their
own setting meant, she believed, a more real apprehension of spiritual
truth. The money they were trained to give, she would spend, not on
buildings so much as on pioneer work among the tribes.
So, too, with the Mission houses. She thought these should be as simple
as possible, and semi-native in style; such, she believed, to be the
driest and most healthy. In any case disease could come into a house
costing L200, as into one costing L20, and "there was such a thing as
God's providence." Still, she recognised the importance of preserving
the health of newcomers, and admitted that her ideas might not apply to
them. "It would be wrong," she said, "to insist on mud-huts for a
nervous or aesthetic person."
It was much the same feeling that ran through her objection to the
natives suddenly transforming themselves into Europeans. Her views in
this respect differed a good deal from those of her co-workers. One
Sunday, after a special service, a number of women who had arrayed
themselves in cheap European finery, boots and stockings and all,
called upon her. She sat on a chair, her back to them, and merely threw
them an occasional word with an angry jerk of her head. They were very
upset, and at last one of them ventured to ask what was the matter.
"Matter!" she exclaimed, and then spoke to them in a way which brought
them all back in the afternoon clothed more appropriately.
On all these questions she thought simply and naturally, and not in
terms of scientific theory and over-elaborated system. She believed
that the world was burdened and paralysed by conventional methods. But
she did not undervalue the aesthetic side of existence. "So many think
that we missionaries live a sort of glorified glamour of a life, and
have no right to think of any of the little refinements and elegancies
which rest and sooth tired and overstrained nerves--certainly
coarseness and ugliness do not help the Christian life, and ugly things
are not as a rule cheaper than beautiful ones." Her conviction was that
a woman worth her salt could make any kind of house beautiful. At the
same time she believed--and proved it in her own life--that the spirit-
filled woman was to a great extent independent of all accessories.
What always vexed her was to think of thousands of girls at home living
a purposeless life, spending their time in fashionable wintering-
places, and undergoing the strenuous toil of conventional amusement.
"Why," she asked, "could they not come out here and stay a month or six
months doing light work, helping with the children, cheering the staff?
What a wealth of interest it would introduce into their lives!" She