Back to Central Africa
The final fortnight of our furlough passed quickly. With 'Good byes' over, we were soon heading for Southampton, where we boarded the palatial Union Castle liner, MS Caernarfon Castle. We had a comfortable port cabin.
Margaret was the youngest child on the ship and it was only natural everyone made a fuss of our daughter. She had a smile and her own baby language to all, especially the menfolk. Sandy Powell, the comedian, bought her a large cuddly black pussy cat which is still treasured to this day. Relatives met us at Cape Town and Durban.
The remainder of the journey was uneventful, until we reached Blantyre. At the Mandala Hotel the manager handed me a letter marked 'Urgent'. I recognized Dr Laws' handwriting. We were distressed to learn that the Doctor was on his way home, an invalid. He wanted to see me at once.
After a bath, quick change and a meal, I was taken to Dr Macfarlane's house. I was given strict instructions to speak to the dear old man for twenty minutes. I was shocked to see Dr Laws looked so ill. The Doctor spoke of Livingstonia, his unfulfilled hopes and the breaking of so many sacred ties.
Dr Laws had one special request. In 1875 (November), he saw a tiny black baby lying on a banana leaf, under a shady tree. The mother was hoeing not far away. He picked up the baby and said a Blessing over her - 'God Bless this child and make her a blessing unto others.' He wanted to hold our Margaret, a white child and repeat the same Blessing.
The following afternoon, just before the Doctor boarded the train (leaving Africa for good), he took our baby in his arms and with great emotion, blessed her with the same eleven words, concluding in a whisper, 'First a black child, now a white child. Amen.'
Later that evening at Blantyre Station, as I said goodbye to my much loved Chief, I saw this man of courage, endurance, patience and unquestioning faith, in a new light - great tenderness, tears streaming down his face. The great crowd of Africans and whites were in tears too. It was a moving experience.
We were glad to be on the move again, by car and the steamer, Domira, to Florence Bay.
As we came ashore we were given a great welcome - in the forefront, the three African ministers, Edward, Yoran and Yaphet. This time the spokesman was Uriah Chirwa. He said, 'We are all happy you are back home with a beautiful baby daughter-we all prayed for your return.'
It is not easy to describe the Africans. There is something built into them that is honest, loyal and loving. At the Homestead, Dan the cook, Ellen and Alice, were waiting to start work, also Robert, the 'boy of all jobs'. During our absence a hurricane had lifted the roof off our house. Repairs had been completed, except for painting and clearing up. Baby Margaret was now three months old. Ellen took charge of her, they were very fond of each other. The day after our arrival -twelve hours - all the key men (except one who had gone to South Africa), were on the veranda. Matthew spoke.
'As we promised, we are here to work for you again. We are happy to see you.'
Within forty-eight hours I was at my office desk and before nightfall I had a grasp of every situation. I was happy to see the foundation laid for my barns (the money promised at Dunbiane had arrived). I made some alterations to suit growing needs. Underneath the four separate granaries, open spaces were reserved for new implements, ox wagon carts and timber fuel. From my key men I had depressing reports. The hurricane had played havoc with one cattle court and levelled some of my finest eucalyptus trees - about 10,000 of my very first seedlings - the Australian seed I got at Durban in 1922. Another shock: a fir plantation of nearly 1,000,000 trees ruined by lire. Trees about eighteen feet tall, an area of desolation. The third disappointment: my one hundred acre cotton belt had not been planted and was back to jungle land. Many fine holdings had fallen into neglect owing to improper supervision. However, other reports were more encouraging.
Each of my students had remained at their posts and progressed beyond my hopes. The coffee, tea, fruit, vegetables and tree nurseries were not only maintained, but greatly increased. Only one thing made me angry - and I was helpless to rectify the mistake. One of my favourite and pet schemes some years previous was the cultivation of 130 acres of virgin lands at Karamteta, where I had built a rest house and initiated extensive nurseries of tea, coffee and some 1,000 grafted fruit trees. Dr Laws had rented this land to a European planter, with option to buy in five years. In one sweep, one of the finest Livingstonia assets with valuable plants, all in excellent order was out of my control. It was most unfortunate for me.
To get first hand knowledge of the vast mission estate and the productive areas outside it, I planned another large conference of chiefs, headmen and important Africans, who had worked for me years previously. The usual feast was held, lots of cooked beef, rice, maize, beans and pumpkins. The African ministers and headmasters were also among my guests. It was a very happy conference - many taking part. A long range programme was drawn up for extra food to fill my new barns.
I had special contracts drawn up and signed by chiefs and headmen for 1). Supplies of fuel timber. 2). Extensive fire-breaks around every important area. 3). Cultivation of 500 acres for extra holdings and afforestation plantations. 4). Contracts with chiefs to be responsible for road and bridge repairs and 5). The supply of workers up to 200 on special occasions. The contracts were printed in English and the vernacular. The conference, plus all the food and small gifts -safety pins, yards of elastic, soap, darning needles, salt, snuff, beads, buttons, pencils, notelets and small mirrors etc., cost me over £2. Had I visited each chief and headman in turn, it would have taken me the best part of a fortnight at a cost of £25. There was one special provision in all contracts to people outside my pay-roll, 'payment only to be made when work was completed and inspected by myself or any other missionary acting for me'. The Africans knew I kept my word and I am happy to say everyone I had contracts and special arrangements with were faithful and discharged all their duties to my satisfaction.
The day came when it was necessary for me to travel to one of the most productive areas, some twenty-five miles from Livingstonia. My wife and baby Margaret were going also. A special shaded cot was made for little Margaret. Two sturdy men volunteered to carry her. She was asleep when we left, cosy in her cot, covered by a mosquito net. All carriers moved forward quickly and quietly.
We were ten miles from our starting point when Margaret woke up, happy, cheerful and full of smiles. We halted for breakfast, delicious fruit, coffee, toast and marmalade. Many eyes looked lovingly on our pretty little daughter, especially the local chief. After a long look at the baby, he looked at me, 'Please, sir, do you love your wife?' I smiled and nodded by head. 'Do you love your baby?' was his next question. His face looked anxious and worried.
'I dearly love my wife and baby. Why do you ask?' I said.
He called me aside. 'Two nights ago a mad leopard attacked a woman and injured her. Last night the same animal attacked a boy and killed him. You are travelling on the same leopard's path. Don't take risks, please go back home with your wife and baby, then travel on your motor cycle alone.'
When he had finished, I reminded him we were people of faith. Our duty is to go forward, we only go back in an emergency.
'So be it. You will have my body guard and I will go with you also.'
Later, I asked my senior supervisor as to the whereabouts of William, the gun boy.
he heard about the mad leopard and the danger, he hurried forward, sir,' he said.
We made a detour to meet an ailing headman, which put two miles on our journey. At one point we heard drums beating and people rejoicing. I asked Ellen (Margaret's nurse), 'Why are the people rejoicing?'
'It's the leopard, sir - the man-eating one. William your gun boy has killed it.'
She was out of breath. 'It's a big one: one hundred inches from nose to tip of tail. A real beauty.'
This was bush telegraph at its best - everything told in detail. I asked the chief to come and tell me the story. His face was full of smiles.
'William, your gun boy, is brave. He hurried before you on the path. He bought a goat, killed it, dragged it bleeding, zigzag across the place where the woman was attacked and child killed. Then he lay on the ground waiting. The leopard came out of the bush, found the blood scent, followed it until it came to the goat. William fired, it bounded and fell dead at his feet.' After a deep breath the chief continued, 'Your friend Yoram did not want you to pass the place where the leopard died. He took you on a roundabout way to the main path.' The chief clasped my hands. 'Our reward is to see your baby and your wife safe, both smiling and happy.'
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.