|CHAPTER XXXI. -- LIBERIA--BUILDINGS--THE RAINY SEASON--SIERRA LEONE--ITS -- PEOPLE--SCHOOLS--WHITE MISSIONARIES--COMMON SENSE -- NEEDED--BROTHER JOHNSON'S EXPERIENCE--HOW WE GET ON IN AFRICA.|
On Monday afternoon I invited Brother Johnson and Brother Miller to take tea with the other brethren. Of course, these were my own country people; they had left their home and went to work among my people in Africa. So we did our best for them.
I got Sister Harmon to make some nice, old-fashioned, Maryland biscuit (which she knew as well how to do as I did myself, and I used to be considered an expert, once upon a time), and we had nice fried chicken, and all else we could get, and that in abundance; that is the way we generally had it in Africa, when we were in for a big thing!
Of course, we could not go at that speed every day. But thank God, I never saw a day in Africa that I did not have plenty to eat. And when at Ma Payne's, in Monrovia, for days my meals would be sent to me in my room, when I was not able to go down, and as nicely served on a waiter as if I had been at a nice boarding house, or at my own home in America.
After tea was over we were all talking and having a pleasant time; the brethren seemed so to have enjoyed their tea, and we were all pleased.
Brother Johnson had been expressing in the most flattering terms his delight and appreciation of the splendid tea, and especially the biscuit. He said the lady who made them must have been a wonderfully nice lady, and if she was not married, she ought to be; for a lady that could make such biscuit ought to have a good husband. Well, we all laughed, and passed it off in a joking manner. I felt pretty safe, as I had not made the biscuit.
Sister Harmon was a nice looking woman, but was older than I, and had sons grown and married, and grandchildren; so she had no fear of anything, save the embarrassment of the question and answer, if it really came to that. So Brother Johnson said to me:
"Mrs. Smith, I would like to speak to you privately."
"Very well," I said; "we will excuse these brethren and you can see me just here."
So the three brethren arose and withdrew to the parlor. I had watched and listened to Brother Johnson, and had taken his measure pretty thoroughly while he was talking, and I felt in my mind that he was going to play the fool.
"Now, Brother Johnson," said I, "proceed. What is it you want to say?"
He straightened up and smiled, and acted a little embarrassed; then got red in the face and all down his neck, till his beautiful white necktie seemed as though it was about to get pink, too.
I thought, "Dearie me, what will he say?" For I looked him squarely in the eye, and with the look of the rock of Gibraltar, if Gibraltar ever looked. I said, "It cannot mean that he is going to propose to me; he has just come; has not been here three days." After clearing his throat, he said:
"Well, Sister Smith, or Mrs. Smith," (emphasizing the Mrs.).
"Yes," I said.
"Well, I have come to Africa, and expect to make it my future home. I have not come to go back. I expect to die here."
Then I spoke and said, "I don't think you need die here any sooner than you would in the United States. One need only use his common sense, and go a little slow while he is acclimating." Then I waited for the next shot.
"I thought," he continued, "I would ask you if you knew of any nice colored woman that you think would make me a good wife. I could have married before I left my country, or America," (he was a Swede); "but I chose to wait till I got here; and I thought it would be better for me to marry a woman of the country, who is already acclimated. If I were to marry a white woman, she would all the time be crying to go home to see her aunt or uncle, or her mother," with a pretty smile.
I groaned, being burdened, to give vent to my mingled feelings. But then I controlled myself; for, during the time he talked, I was reading him, and I said to myself: "There is nothing in this man; he is as full of self as he can be, and he is going to be a failure, if not a disgrace, to Bishop Taylor's mission here." For the work was just starting, and was new, and needed much careful guiding and management, with all the American and African prejudices against this new, self-supporting movement.
"Mr. Johnson, I know some very nice women here, who, I think would make good wives for somebody; but I would not recommend anyone that I know, to do what I would not do myself; and I, myself, would not marry you, or any other man, if you were gold; a rank stranger, just come from another country, and have not been here three days; no one knows anything about you; you
I saw that my version of things did not take very well with Brother Johnson. But I did not know until Wednesday what had gone before.
Mr. Pratt's wife's sister, a very nice girl, had gone to help in the house, as Mrs. Pratt was sick. She took a great fancy to Mrs. Harnard and the children, and had offered herself to Mrs. Harnard, to go with her, to take care of the children.
It appeared that when Mr. Johnson came ashore on Saturday, and saw this girl at Mrs. Pratt's, he was struck clear through at first sight, and had proposed; and she, poor thing, thought it was splendid. She judged from outside appearances; for Mr. Johnson was a very nice looking man, nicely dressed, patent leather boots, shirt, collar and necktie exquisitely beautiful, and she thought she had a fish of the first water. I suppose she had; but it was bony.
They were to be married on Thursday, and would have been, if Mr. Pratt had allowed it. When he found it out, he sent the girl home to her father, and managed to hold Brother Johnson in check for two weeks.
So that was the meaning of the private conversation that Mr. Johnson wanted with me Monday evening. But he did not come straight out and tell me. I was glad afterward that I did not know anything about it, and that I talked just as I did. And, notwithstanding all that, they tried to say that I was favorable to it.
They were married at the Methodist Church, by somebody, I don't remember now by whom; but I know Brother Harnard did not marry them. I never went near: because I was so busy with my sick missionaries, and I did not care anyhow, to see the beginning of the thing; I was more interested about how it was going to come out.
Well, it turned out just as I said. After a week or so he carried the poor thing up into the country to their station. She had nothing, and he had nothing, only his mission supplies; and they had used the best part of those for their marriage feast, no one
Mr. Johnson seemed to think if he only married a colored girl, he being a white man, it would be such a standing proof to the colored people that he really loved them, that they would take him right into their arms, and lavish upon them their wealth and gifts; especially as he had married into one of the most respectable families in Cape Palmas; the daughter of the Hon. Mr. H. Gibson. My! he thought he had it. And so he had.
Poor girl! I knew her well. She had been converted and sanctified in one of the meetings that I had held, and had grown in grace, and was developing so nicely, and was one of our good workers in the Band of Hope Temperance work.
When I knew that the decree was passed to marry Mr. Johnson, I confess I was disappointed in her; for I really gave her credit for having more sense. So I never opened my head to her on the subject.
Her joy and delight were of short duration. He got fever and was down sick. They came back to the Cape. I went to see him, and did what I could.
When he got better they went again up to their station. The natives received them gladly, and gave them a bullock. They had their mission house built to go into. But everything was so different from what it was in America. He got down with fever again, and again they returned to the Cape. I, with Brother Pratt, did everything I could for him till I left.
After some months of going back and forth, and getting down with fever, he came back to the Cape again, and took the first steamer for home, and left his wife there, to live or die. Poor thing! In less than a year she died.
And Brother Johnson--though everything was done for him that could be done, I saw him after this in Monrovia, going about from house to house, and the worst thing he could say of Bishop Taylor and his self-supporting mission was too good.
Of course, he and Mr. Hillman, and Mr. Astley, had all gone over to the Episcopal Church; and it seems that one of the surest marks of true fidelity to that church is to ignore and denounce everybody and everything in the church that has fitted them for this church to receive.
The last time I saw Brother Johnson, was in July, '91, at the
I have said it was not always a matter of having the cash, in order to get on in Africa, for there were times when you couldn't get things even with the cash.
"Then what would we do when we couldn't get the things we wanted at the stores?"
Well, we would just have to wait, and do the best we could, till a steamer came, or an American vessel; sometimes it would be a week, or two, or three, just as it happened.
"How did we get on?"
Well, that is a difficult question to answer--how we got on. But we did get on; we would just call up the old mother of invention, and she always had some plan to help us out; so there was no necessity of getting homesick or backsliding.
I never was homesick but about five minutes the whole eight years I was in Africa; and that was one day when I was reading an account in the "Christian Standard" of a wonderful holiness meeting held at old John Street, New York, and I was so hungry for such a spiritual feast; and as I read I found myself saying, "How I wish I were there."
When I thought of what I had said I sprang to my feet and cried out, "Now, Lord, help me, for I know I am right in the place where you want me, and it is all right." And in a moment the homesick feeling left me.
Then once, while I was at Miss Sharpe's, I was very nearly homesick. I was just going through my first attack of fever, and suffered for a drink of cool water. Being accustomed to having ice in this country, or going to a spring or pump and getting a cool drink, I felt I must have some ice. In India they make ice; so while there I could get ice water; but they don't make it in Africa. Sometimes we could get a piece off the steamer; but only a small piece, which could not last very long; and generally when one wanted it most, there would be no steamer in; so one must do without it.
And the water is always warm. The only time you get it cool is very early in the morning, or during the rainy season. In the morning it would be a little cool, but if you drink it so very early you will be very apt to have a chill; so you must be careful on that line.
I was pretty well scorched with fever, and as the days and nights went on, and nothing cool to drink, and no appetite to eat anything I could get to eat; I craved what I could not get.
Plenty could be got, but not what I wanted. I wanted a nice broiled mutton chop, basted with some nice hard butter, not that soft, oily stuff that was in the tins. I wanted a nice baker's roll, with hard butter off the ice, and a nice cup of tea, with some fresh cream, not condensed milk.
All the nice things that I ever did for sick people when I lived in a rich gentleman's family came into my mind. I knew exactly how to do it; I had done it for others. And when I would shut my eyes there would be all the things right before me. I could see them just as plain as could be. When I fell into a little doze of sleep they would haunt me. When I would wake, Oh! how hungry I would be for just that; I wanted nothing else.
It was not the question of money; I had a little, and would have got all these things, but they were not there to be got.
So one night I prayed nearly all night, and asked the Lord to take all desire out of me for everything I could not get, and help me to like and relish just what I could get. About four o'clock in the morning I fell asleep, and woke about six; and every bit of desire for mutton chop, and rolls, and hard butter, and fresh cream was gone, and I was as free from the desire as if I had never had it. I laughed, and cried, and praised the Lord for His loving mercy.
No one who has not had the experience can tell anything about what it means to be weak, and sick, and hungry, and where you cannot get a little of what your appetite craves. But our God is a wonderful deliverer. And then the grand old text that He gave me when I first started, "My God will supply all of your need,"--how true. Praise His name. Amen.