XVI. THE BLACK
PLAGUE - II
The Town Clerk expressed his gratitude to me for
having taken charge of the vacant house and the patients.
He frankly confessed that the Town Council had no
immediate means to cope with such an emergency, but
promised that they would render all the help in their
power. Once awakened to a sense of their duty, the
Municipality made no delay in taking prompt measures.
The next day they placed a vacant godown at my
disposal, and suggested that the patients be removed
there, but the Municipality did not undertake to clean
the premises. The building was unkempt and unclean. We
cleaned it up ourselves, raised a few beds and other
necessaries through the offices of charitable Indians,
and improvised a temporary hospital. The Municipality
lent the services of a nurse, who came with brandy and
other hospital equipment. Dr. Godfrey still remained in
The nurse was a kindly lady and would fain have
attended to the patients, but we rarely allowed her to
touch them, lest she should catch the contagion.
We had instructions to give the patients frequent
doses of brandy. The nurse even asked us to take it for
precaution, just as she was doing herself. But none of us
would touch it. I had no faith in its beneficial effect
even for the patients. With the permission of Dr.
Godfrey, I put three patients, who were prepared to do
without brandy, under the earth treatment, applying wet
earth bandages to their heads and chests. Two of these
were saved. The other twenty died in the godown.
Meanwhile the Municipality was busy taking other
measures. There was a lazaretto for contagious diseases
about seven miles from Johannesburg. The two surviving
patients were removed to tents near the lazaretto, and
arrangements were made for sending any fresh cases there.
We were thus relieved of our work.
In the course of a few days we learnt that the good
nurse had an attack and immediately succumbed. It is
impossible to say how the two patients were saved and how
we remained immune, but the experience enhanced my faith
in earth treatment, as also my scepticism of the efficacy
of brandy, even as a medicine. I know that neither this
faith nor this scepticism is based upon any solid
grounds, but I still retain the impression which I then
received, and have therefore thought it necessary to
mention it here.
On the outbreak of the plague, I had addressed a
strong letter to the press, holding the Municipality
guilty of negligence after the location came into its
possession and responsible for the outbreak of the plague
itself. This letter secured me Mr. Henry Polak, and was
partly responsible for the friendship of the late Rev.
I have said in an earlier chapter that I used to have
my meals at a vegetarian restaurant. Here I met Mr.
Albert West. We used to meet in this restaurant every
evening and go out walking after dinner. Mr. West was a
partner in a small printing concern. He read my letter in
the press about the outbreak of the plague and, not
finding me in the restaurant, felt uneasy.
My co-workers and I had reduced our diet since the
outbreak, as I had long made it a rule to go on a light
diet during epidemics. In these days I had therefore
given up my evening dinner. Lunch also I would finish
before the other guests arrived. I knew the proprietor of
the restaurant very well, and I had informed him that, as
I was engaged in nursing the plague patients, I wanted to
avoid the contact of friends as much as possible.
Not finding me in the restaurant for a day or two, Mr.
West knocked at my door early one morning just as I was
getting ready to go out for a walk. As I opened the door
Mr. West said: 'I did not find you in the restaurant and
was really afraid lest something should have happened to
you. So I decided to come and see you in the morning in
order to make sure of finding you at home. Well, here I
am at your disposal. I am ready to help in nursing the
patients. You know that I have no one depending on me.'
I expressed my gratitude, and without taking even a
second to think, replied: 'I will not have you as a
nurse. If there are no more cases, we shall be free in a
day or two. There is one thing however.'
'Yes, what is it?'
'Could you take charge of the Indian Opinion
press at Durban? Mr. Madanjit is likely to be engaged
here, and someone is needed at Durban. If you could go, I
should feel quite relieved on that score.'
'You know that I have a press. Most probably I shall
be able to go, but may I give my final reply in the
evening? We shall talk it over during our evening walk.
I was delighted. We had the talk. He agreed to go.
Salary was no consideration to him, as money was not his
motive, But a salary ?0 per month and a part of the
profits, if any, was fixed up. The very next day Mr. West
left for Durban by the evening mail, entrusting me with
the recovery of his dues. From that day until the time I
left the shores of South Africa, he remained a partner of
my joys and sorrows.
Mr. West belonged to a peasant family in Louth
(Lincolnshire). He had an ordinary school education, but
had learnt a good deal in the school of experience and by
dint of self-help. I have always known him to be a pure,
sober, god-fearing, humane Englishman.
We shall know more of him and his family in the
chapters to follow.