III. THE TEST
So the ships were brought into the dock and the
passengers began to go ashore. But Mr. Escombe had sent
word to the captain that, as the whites were highly
enraged against me and my life was in danger, my family
and I should be advised to land at dusk, when the Port
Superintendent Mr. Tatum would escort us home. The
captain communicated the message to me. and I agreed to
act accordingly. But scarcely half an hour after this,
Mr. Laughton came to the captain. He said: 'I would like
to take Mr. Gandhi with me, should he have no objection.
As the legal adviser of the Agent Company I tell you that
you are not bound to carry out the message you have
received from Mr. Escombe.' After this he came to me and
said somewhat to this effect: 'If you are not afraid, I
suggest that Mrs. Gandhi and the children should drive to
Mr. Rustomji's house, whilst you and I follow them on
foot. I do not at all like the idea of your entering the
city like a thief in the night. I do not think there is
any fear of anyone hurting you. Everything is quiet now.
The whites have all dispersed. But in any case I am
convinced that you ought not to enter the city
stealthily.' I readily agreed. My wife and children drove
safely to Mr. Rustomji's place. With the captain's
permission I went ashore with Mr. Laughton. Mr Rustomji's
house was about two miles from the dock.
As soon as we landed, some youngsters recognized me
and shouted 'Gandhi, Gandhi.' About half a dozen men
rushed to the spot and joined in the shouting. Mr.
Laughton feared that the crowd might swell and hailed a
rickshaw. I had never liked the idea of being in a
rickshaw. This was to be my first experience. But the
youngsters would not let me get into it. They frightened
the rickshaw boy out of his life, and he took to his
heels. As we went ahead, the crowd continued to swell,
until it became impossible to proceed further. They first
caught hold of Mr. Laughton and separated us. Then they
pelted me with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs. Someone
snatched away my turban, whilst others began to batter
and kick me. I fainted and caught hold of the front
railings of a house and stood there to get my breath. But
it was impossible. They came upon me boxing and
battering. The wife of the Police Superintendent, who
knew me, happened to be passing by. The brave lady came
up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and
stood between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of
the mob, as it was difficult for them to deliver blows on
me without harming Mrs. Alexander.
Meanwhile an Indian youth who witnessed the incident
had run to the police station. The Police Superintendent
Mr. Alexander sent a posse of men to ring me round and
escort me safely to my destination. They arrived in time.
The police station lay on our way. As we reached there,
the Superintendent asked me to take refuge in the
station, but I gratefully declined the offer, 'They are
sure to quiet down when they realize their mistake,' I
said. 'I have trust in their sense of fairness.' Escorted
by the police, I arrived without further harm at Mr.
Rustomji's place. I had bruises all over, but no
abrasions except in one place. Dr. Dadibarjor, the ship's
doctor, who was on the spot, rendered the best possible
There was quiet inside, but outside the whites
surrounded the house. Night was coming on, and the
yelling crowd was shouting, 'We must have Gandhi.' The
quick-sighted Police Superintendent was already there
trying to keep the crowds under control, not by threats,
but by humouring them. But he was not entirely free from
anxiety. He sent me a message to this effect: 'If you
would save your friend's house and property and also your
family, you should escape from the house in disguise, as
Thus on one and the same day I was faced with two
contradictory positions. When danger to life had been no
more than imaginary, Mr. Laughton advised me to launch
forth openly. I accepted the advice. When the danger was
quite real, another friend gave me the contrary advice,
and I accepted that too. Who can say whether I did so
because I saw that my life was in jeopardy, or because I
did not want to put my friend's life and property or the
lives of my wife and children in danger? Who can say for
certain that I was right both when I faced the crowd in
the first instance bravely, as it was said, and when I
escaped from it in disguise?
It is idle to adjudicate upon the right and wrong of
incidents that have already happened. It is useful to
understand them and, if possible, to learn a lesson from
them for the future. It is difficult to say for certain
how a particular man would act in a particular set of
circumstances. We can also see that judging a man from
his outward act is no more than a doubtful inference,
inasmuch as it is not based on sufficient data.
Be that as it may, the preparations for escape made me
forget my injuries. As suggested by the Superintendent, I
put on an Indian constable's uniform and wore on my head
a Madrasi scarf, wrapped round a plate to serve as a
helmet. Two detectives accompanied me, one of them
disguised as an Indian merchant and with his face painted
to resemble that of an Indian. I forget the disguise of
the other. We reached a neighbouring shop by a by-lane
and, making our way through the gunny bags piled in the
godown, escaped by the gate of the shop and threaded our
way through the crowd to a carriage that had been kept
for me at the end of the street. In this we drove off to
the same police station where Mr. Alexander had offered
me refuge a short time before, and I thanked him and the
Whilst I had been thus effecting my escape Mr.
Alexander had kept the crowd amused by singing the tune:
'Hang old Gandhi On the sour apple tree.' When he was
informed of my safe arrival at the police station, he
thus broke the news to the crowd: 'Well, your victim had
made good his escape through a neighbouring shop. You had
better go home now.' Some of them were angry, others
laughed, some refused to believe the story.
'Well then,' said the Superintendent, 'If you do not
believe me, you may appoint one or two representatives,
whom I am ready to take inside the house, If they succeed
in finding out Gandhi, I will gladly deliver him to you.
But if they fail, you must disperse. I am sure that you
have no intention of destroying Mr. Rustomji's house or
of harming Mr. Gandhi's wife and children.'
The crowed sent their representatives to search the
house. They soon returned with disappointing news, and
the crowd broke up at last, most of them admiring the
Superintendent's tactful handling of the situation, and a
few fretting and fuming.
The late Mr. Chamberlain, who was then Secretary of
State for the Colonies, cabled asking the Natal
Government to prosecute my assailants. Mr. Escombe sent
for me, expressed his regret for the injuries I had
sustained, and said: 'Believe me, I cannot feel happy
over the least little injury done to your person. You had
a right to accept Mr. Laughton's advice and to face the
worst, but I am sure that, if you had considered my
suggestion favourably, these sad occurrences would not
have happened. If you can identify the assailants, I am
prepared to arrest and prosecute them. Mr. Chamberlain
also desires me to do so.'
To which I gave the following reply:
'I do not want to prosecute anyone. It is possible
that I may be able to identify one or two of them, but
what is the use of getting them punished? Besides, I do
not hold the assailants to blame. They were given to
understand that I had made exaggerated statements in
India about the whites in Natal and calumniated them. If
they believed these reports, it is no wonder that they
were enraged. The leaders and, if you will permit me to
say so, you are to blame. You could have guided the
people properly, but you also believed Reuter and assumed
that I must have indulged in exaggeration. I do not want
to bring anyone to book. I am sure that, when the truth
becomes known, they will be sorry for their conduct.'
'Would you mind giving me this in writing?' said Mr.
Escombe. 'Because I shall have to cable to Mr.
Chamberlain to that effect. I do not want you to make any
statement in haste. You may, if you like, consult Mr.
Laughton and your other friends, before you come to a
final decision. I may confess, however, that, if you
waive the right of bringing your assailants to book, you
will considerable help me in restoring quiet, besides
enhancing your own reputation.'
'Thank you,' said I. 'I need not consult anyone. I had
made my decision in the matter before I came to you. It
is my conviction that I should not prosecute the
assailants, and I am prepared this moment to reduce my
decision to writing.'
With this I gave him the necessary statement.