OUR ARM EVERY MORNING
We have come now to the year 1912. There are some dates that do not fly. The time down to the minute lives with me.
It was Saturday, August 21, at half‐past eight in the morning. A civilian, keen on music, had been staying with us, and instead of departing at seven as he had intended, he had gone to the big schoolroom with us, and we with the children had been singing English hymns. The bright little picture stands out clear—Miss Wade at the organ; the children, to whom every white man is a mixture of hero, saint, and playfellow, pressing round; flowers looking in at the window and down from the roof, for a climbing allamanda, with its large soft yellow flowers, grew in between the top of the wall and the roof, and hung its bells overhead. We finished with ‘The King of Love,’ and then came joyfully up to the house, the children as usual all excitement to see the motor‐cycle start. On the dining‐room table lay the letters—and a telegram: ‘Walker dangerously ill.’
Mr. Walker had gone to the Telugu country to take meetings. Mrs. Walker was in England. This telegram which had been delayed for two days was the first intimation we had had of any trouble. Five hours later, the second telegram came: ‘And they shall see His face; and His Name shall be in their foreheads.’
Can words tell what Ponnamal was to us all through that time? For some days the compound was besieged by crowds of people, who, appeared at intervals and roamed about noisily, raising clouds of dust, and filling the place with unquietness. Ponnamal helped us to soothe and disperse them. Then, when at last we were left to our grief, grief for the one in England, the children, ourselves—for in this order it advanced upon us—to me, stripped as I verily felt I was at that moment of my strongest earthly stay, she said: ‘It must be that you are meant to lean on God alone.’
At first it seemed as if we might hold on, but could not dare to develop further: it felt impossible to face the anxiety of growing bigger. This will not be understood by the brave and self‐reliant souls of whom fortunately the world contains so many; nor will it be clearly intelligible to any except those few who know the conditions under which we work. This attack on the hidden heart of a system dominant in India for centuries carries in itself possibilities unknown to the nearest friend outside it. It is quite different from any other work known to me in twenty‐four years of life .abroad; quite different too, of course, from any sort of philanthropic work, in much of which Hindus themselves are genuinely interested. On the surface what we are doing looks usual enough; and to visitors who see nothing of the shapes behind the children, it is all quite obvious and pretty. But those shapes are always visible to us, and to Ponnamal they were visible always. It was with relation to this, the undefinable, the inexplicable, that Mr. Walker’s presence had been such a strength and help to us.
He knew India as few know it; he was wise as few are wise; and he had that rarest gift of never failing one at a crisis. And then, too, his sympathies were bound up in the work; the children were not just ‘the children’ to him—they might have been his own; he thought of them so tenderly, and so individually, that one could always go to him and talk over matters connected with their varying characters, sure of his interest, the interest of one to whom the matter in hand really belongs. ‘I have no man like‐minded who will naturally care for your state:’ how often the word has come to me since that good friend departed.
Ponnamal realized this from the first. It was in her mind when she said, ‘It must be that you are meant to lean on God alone.’ And then gradually I understood that what had been rather a trouble to me at times was now to be a comfort. For often, when in times of uncertainty I went to the little study for advice, I had to come away without it. ‘I don’t know anything about it,’ he would say; for he was not one of those who never say, ‘I don’t know.’ It was as if often he could only help by turning to his Lord, and asking Him to help us; and was not that one way left open to him still? More and more as I pondered it the curious fact emerged that, though I had hardly realized it, so perfect had his sympathy been, yet he had never once taken the initiative or the responsibility in any matter concerning the work; he had not ever advised where its more intricate problems were concerned, for they touched upon things in that Underland life which he knew was beyond his ken. He had championed us; and to that championship we owed much of our freedom from molestation. He had sympathized with us in a way which halved every grief and doubled every joy. But that which was essential to the continuance of the work did not depend on him, but on the One who dieth no more. A friend sent me just then a Mildmay text, ‘Thou remainest;’ and a Dohnavur comrade painted in blue letters on brown teak, ‘Be Thou their arm every morning;’ these words were comfort and strength to me.
And to my dear Ponnamal too. For in all this she shared, as indeed did every one of our united household. Of them all, Ponnamal was the only one whose knowledge of the conditions of this land fitted her to be counsellor. But she had been left, and our treasure, Arulai, was with us too; and I was ashamed of the feeling of bereftness that had at first laid hold on me in spite of the multitude of comforts that had refreshed my soul. So we went on. And to our astonishment—so foolish are we and ignorant—that which we had thought we could not do, we did, God being our Arm every morning.