In Johannesburg I had at one time as many as four Indian clerks, who were perhaps more like my sons than clerks. But even these were not enough for my work. It was impossible to do without typewriting, which, among us, if at all, only I knew. I taught it to two of the clerks, but they never came up to the mark because of their poor English. And then one of these I wanted to train as an accountant. I could not get anyone from Natal, for nobody could enter the Transvaal without a permit, and for my own personal convenience I was not prepared to ask a favour of the Permit Officer.
I was at my wits' end. Arrears were fast mounting up, so much so
that it seemed impossible for me, however much I might try, to cope
with professional and public work. I was quite willing to engage a
European clerk, but I was not sure to get a white man or woman to
serve a coloured man like myself. However I decided to try. I
approached a typewriting agent whom I knew, and asked him to get me
a stenographer. There were girls available, and he promised to try
to secure the services of one. He came across a Scots girl called
Miss Dick, who had just come fresh from Scotland. She had no
objection to earning an honest livelihood, wherever available, and
she was in need. So the agent sent her on to me. She immediately
'Don't you mind serving under an Indian?' I asked her.
'Not at all,' was her firm reply.
'What salary do you expect?'
'Would £ 17 10s be too much?'
'Not too much if you will give me the work I want from you. When can
'This moment, if you wish.'
I was very pleased and straightaway started dictating letters to
Before very long she became more a daughter or a sister to me than a
mere stenotypist. I had scarcely any reason to find fault with her
work. She was often entrusted with the management of funds amounting
to thousands of pounds, and she was in charge of account books. She
won my complete confidence, but what was perhaps more, she confided
to me her innermost thoughts and feelings. She sought my advice in
the final choice of her husband, and I had the privilege to give her
away in marriage. As soon as Miss Dick became Mrs. Macdonald, she
had to leave me, but even after her marriage she did not fail to
respond, whenever under pressure I made a call upon her.
But a permanent stenotypist was now needed in her place, and I was
fortunate in getting another girl. She was Miss Schlesin, introduced
to me by Mr. Kallenbach, whom the reader will know in due course.
She is at present a teacher in one of the High Schools in the
Transvaal. She was about seventeen when she came to me. Some of her
idiosyncrasies were at times too much for Mr. Kallenbach and me. She
had come less to work as a stenotypist than to gain experience.
Colour prejudice was foreign to her temperament. She seemed to mind
neither age nor experience. She would not hesitate even to the point
of insulting a man and telling him to his face what she thought of
him. Her impetuosity often landed me in difficulties, but her open
and guileless temperament removed them as soon as they were created.
I have often signed without revision letters typed by her, as I
considered her English to be better than mine, and had the fullest
confidence in her loyalty.
Her sacrifice was great. For a considerable period she did not draw
more than £6, and refused ever to receive more than £10 a month.
When I urged her to take more, she would give me a scolding and say,
'I am not here to draw a salary from you. I am here because I like to
work with you and I like your ideals.'
She had once an occasion to take £40 from me, but she insisted on
having it as a loan, and repaid the full amount last year. Her
courage was equal to her sacrifice. She is one of the few women I
have been privileged to come across, with a character as clear as
crystal and courage that would shame a warrior. She is a grown up
woman now. I do not know her mind quite as well as when she was with
me, but my contact with this young lady will ever be for me a sacred
recollection. I would therefore be false to truth if I kept back
what I know about her.
She knew neither night nor day in toiling for the cause. She
ventured out on errands in the darkness of the night all by herself,
and angrily scouted any suggestion of an escort. Thousands of
stalwart Indians looked up to her for guidance. When during the
Satyagraha days almost every one of the leaders was in jail, she led
the movement single-handed. She had the management of thousands, a
tremendous amount of correspondence, and Indian Opinion
in her hands, but she never wearied.
I could go on without end writing thus about Miss Schlesin, but I
shall conclude this chapter with citing Gokhale's estimate of her.
Gokhale knew every one of my co-workers. He was pleased with many of
them, and would often give his opinion of them. He gave the first
place to Miss Schlesin amongst all the Indian and European
co-workers. 'I have rarely met with the sacrifice, the purity and
the fearlessness I have seen in Miss Schlesin,' said he. 'Amongst
your co-workers, she takes the first place in my estimation.'