Early in June, 1897, Ponnamal, her relatives by miracle agreeing, cast in her lot with mine; and for eight years we itinerated together, with a band of women and girls who gathered round us. The people called us by a name meaning a constellation like Orion or the Pleiades, and we often got letters addressed to us under this shining name. Those years lie in memory like a handful of jewels that sparkle as I turn them over. Why do past years sparkle so? They were full of ordinary things while they were being lived; they were often dusty and dull; but they are jewels now, many‐coloured, various; lighted with lights time cannot dim nor tears drown.
Outwardly our life was, I suppose, quite normal. We were an itinerating band, furnished with a flag made of folds of black, red, white, and yellow sateen, a most useful text for an impromptu sermon; and we found Eastern musical instruments useful too. Being the first women’s band of its kind in the district, we walked circumspectly. I used to feel like a cat on the top of a wall, the sort of wall that is plentifully set with bits of broken bottles; for there seemed to be no end to the occasions on which ‘it was necessary to be careful.’ But we had excellent times notwithstanding, and our own little private springs of mirth never ran dry. Ponnamal soon recovered from the cowing effect of her parents‐in‐law, and proved herself a delightful companion; it was good to see the timid look passing from her, as she began to realize her liberty. And our manner of life was ideal: we had one thing to do and one only; there could be no perplexities as to which was the duty of the hour—there was only one possible duty.
Much of our time we spent in scouring the country round our different camping places. Off we would go in the early morning, walking, or by bullock‐cart, as many of us as could get in, packed under its curved mat roof. Stuffiness, weariness, that appalling sensation of almost sea‐sickness which never forgets to afflict those naturally inclined thereto, all these disagreeables have faded, and one only remembers the loveliness of the early lights on palm, and water, and emerald sheet of rice‐field; the songs by which we refreshed ourselves as we tumbled along in the heat; the pause outside the village we were to enter; the swift upward call for an open door; the entrance, all of us watching eagerly for signs of a welcome anywhere—for this was pioneer work, not work in ground prepared, and in scores of the places to which we went no white woman had ever been seen before.
Sometimes we would get out at the entrance of the village and walk on till we saw a friendly face—and we almost always found one. We usually separated then, and went two and two, and won our way past the men who would be sauntering in the front courtyard, and so penetrated to the women’s rooms; or if that proved impracticable, we held an open‐air meeting somewhere; or sat down wherever we could, and waited till someone came to talk, for we found—at festivals, for example—that if we waited in some quiet by‐street, sitting apparently unconcerned, Indian guru‐fashion, on a deserted verandah, or under a tree, that one by one people discovered us, and came and squatted down beside us and asked questions. We grew more and more to use this way of approach; it seemed to suit the temper of the people, and it led furthest in.
Then home before the heat grew too intolerable; and then after breakfast, through the hottest time, we had what would now be described as a Study Circle.
Not that we had ever heard the word, a convenient later invention; but the thing itself was our habit; and with something of the spirit with which Lady Burne‐Jones tells us her husband and his friend William Morris sat down to search into the lightest word of their poet, by way of preparation for the making of the beautiful Kelmscott Press Chaucer, we, together with the other members of the women’s band, turned to the well‐known pages of our Classic, and searched them through and through for that without which our work would have been vain. Often Ponnamal took notes; and those notes were copied by Tamil Bible Students elsewhere, and used to reappear, to our interest and sometimes amusement, in unexpected places. In the last year of her life her comfort was for me to sit with her and read now without note or comment from that beloved Book. In this way we read the Psalms, and Gospels, and those parts of the Epistles which lead into quiet meadows, lingering over and returning again and again to the dear and long familiar words, in which she found strong consolation.
The afternoons and evenings of those years were spent much as the mornings, except that we often joined the other side of the house in its avocations, and when missions to Christians were the order of the day took our share in them. Sometimes we all went street‐preaching together, with a baby organ by way of attraction; and Ponnamal, who had developed a gift of fine and forceful speech, and could hold a turbulent open‐air meeting in a big busy market as easily as the decorous assembly settled in tidy rows in prayer‐room or village church, was an immense help always. Coming home, especially if the afternoon had been in some irresponsive village and we were feeling low, we used to make a point of singing the happiest things we knew.
Once, for a period which seemed ages long, we were shut out of the homes of the people, because some of them had believed our report. When we went to the villages where this had happened, we were pelted with ashes and rotten garlands from the necks of the idols.
One day a great crowd drew round us, and shouted its sentiments and made a most unholy racket. We stood under a burning sun till we were too tired to stand any longer; then, as there was nothing else to be done, we knelt down in the middle of the rabble and prayed for it, after which it let us go. Once we were tom‐tomed out of a village, accompanied by all the ragamuffins of the place—a new experience for Ponnamal; but she walked out of that village, I remember, with the utmost dignity, in nowise disturbed thereby. To those to whom such episodes sound rather extraordinary, and to whom the militant attitude is all wrong, I can only say that with the best intentions, as I think ours were, to live a peaceable life, we were never able to discover a way by which the captives of the devil could be delivered without offending that person. When doors lie open year after year, it only means that nothing vital has been done behind them. But open doors are such nice things that we were at first much troubled when they shut; it was then we comforted ourselves with song. And as the ultimate outcome of opposition was usually the emancipation of someone elsewhere, we learned not to be moved from our purpose by talk about the unwisdom of shutting doors.
But while we were thus shut out, it was a real trouble to us to; feel ourselves anathema; for we knew the people inside so well, and so thoroughly understood the bitterness of things to them, that we could not help sympathizing with them. ‘If India were as Japan is, how different it would be!’ I used to say ruefully, after a battering of spirit in some vociferous village. There they are not compelled by any idiotic social code to turn believing members out of their community, and fall upon those who only want to help them. And one day I looked at a great spider’s web several feet in diameter, and saw the mighty Caste system of India. At the outer edges floated almost freely long light threads that caught the morning sun and waved responsively to the morning airs. But nearer to the centre of the web the lines were drawn close—no wandering here; and right in the heart of it crouched the creature who ruled it all. A spider in India can be quite terrific; so can that be which holds the threads of a web woven in the far beginning.