VI. OLD CALABAR
There are very few women in Calabar. There are three or four who are wives of officials, two nurses employed by the government, and the Mother Superior and Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph, and, of course, all of them are great belles. For the Sisters, especially the officers, the government people, the traders, the natives, even the rival missionaries, have the most tremendous respect and admiration. The sacrifice of the woman who, to be near her husband on the Coast, consents to sicken and fade and grow old before her time, and of the nurse who, to preserve the health of others, risks her own, is very great; but the sacrifice of the Sisters, who have renounced all thought of home and husband, and who have exiled themselves to this steaming swamp-land, seems the most unselfish. In order to support the 150 little black boys and girls who are at school at the mission, the Sisters rob themselves of everything except the little that will keep them alive. Two, in addition to their work at the mission, act as nurses in the English hospital, and for that they receive together $600. This forms the sole regular income of the five women; for each $120 a year. With anything else that is given them in charity, they buy supplies for the little converts. They live in a house of sandstone and zinc that holds the heat like a flat-iron, they are obliged to wear a uniform that is of material and fashion so unsuited to the tropics that Dr. Chichester, in charge of the hospital, has written in protest against it to Rome, and on many days they fast, not because the Church bids them so to do, but because they have no food. And with it all, these five gentlewomen are always eager, cheerful, sweet of temper, and a living blessing to all who meet them. What now troubles them is that they have no room to accommodate the many young heathen who come to them to be taught to wear clothes, and to be good little boys and girls. This is causing the Sisters great distress. Any one who does not believe in that selfish theory, that charity begins at home, but who would like to help to spread Christianity in darkest Africa and give happiness to five noble women, who are giving their lives for others, should send a postal money order to Marie T. Martin, the Reverend Mother Superior of the Catholic Mission of Old Calabar, Southern Nigeria.
And if you are going to do it, as they say in the advertising pages, "Do it now!"
At Calabar there is a royal prisoner, the King of Benin. He is not an agreeable king like His Majesty of the Cameroons, but a grossly fat, sensual-looking young man, who, a few years ago, when he was at war with the English, made "ju ju" against them by sacrificing three hundred maidens, his idea being that the ju ju would drive the English out of Benin. It was poor ju ju, for it drove the young man himself out of Benin, and now he is a king in exile. As far as I could see, the social position of the king is insecure, and certainly in Calabar he does not move in the first circles. One afternoon, when the four or five ladies of Calabar and Mr. Bedwell, the Acting Commissioner, and the officers of the W.A.F.F.'s were at the clubhouse having ice-drinks, the king at the head of a retinue of cabinet officers, high priests, and wives bore down upon the club-house with the evident intention of inviting himself to tea. Personally, I should like to have met a young man who could murder three hundred girls and worry over it so little that he had not lost one of his three hundred pounds, but the others were considerably annoyed and sent an A.D.C. to tell him to "Move on!" as though he were an organ-grinder, or a performing bear.
"These kings," exclaimed a subaltern of the W.A.F.F.'s, indignantly, "are trying to push in everywhere!"
When we departed from Calabar, the only thing that reconciled me to leaving it and its charming people, was the fact that when the ship moved there was a breeze. While at anchor in the river I had found that not being able to breathe by day or to sleep by night in time is trying, even to the stoutest constitution.
One of the married ladies of Calabar, her husband, an officer of the W.A.F.F.'s, and the captain of the police sailed on the Nigeria "on leave," and all Calabar came down to do them honor. There was the commissioner's gig, and the marine captain's gig, and the police captain's gig, and the gig from "Matilda's," the English trading house, and one from the Dutch house and the French house, and each gig was manned by black boys in beautiful uniforms and fezzes, and each crew fought to tie up to the foot of the accommodation ladder. It was as gay as a regatta. On the quarter-deck the officers drank champagne, in the captain's cabin Hughes treated the traders to beer, in the "square" the non-coms. of the W.A.F.F.'s drank ale. The men who were going away on leave tried not to look too happy, and those who were going back to the shore drank deep and tried not to appear too carelessly gay. A billet on the West Coast is regarded by the man who accepts it as a sort of sporting proposition, as a game of three innings of nine months each, during which he matches his health against the Coast. If he lives he wins; if he dies the Coast wins.