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 out 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
typewriter's 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
Scotch 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 prepossessed
'Don't you mind serving under an Indian?' I asked her.
'Not at all,' was her firm reply.
'What salary do you expect?'
'Would ?17/10 be too much?'
'Not too much if you will give me the work I want from
you. When can you join?'
'This moment if you wish.'
I was very pleased and straightaway started dictating
letters to her.
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
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 School 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 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 darknes 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.'