|Letter Reference||Olive Schreiner BC16/Box7/Fold3/Jan-Feb1920/22
|Archive||University of Cape Town, Manuscripts & Archives, Cape Town
|Letter Date||3 February 1920
|Address From||9 Porchester Place, Edgware Road, Westminster, London
|Who To||Frances (Fan') Schreiner nee Reitz
The manuscript of this letter by Olive Schreiner belongs to the Archive referenced above; its ownership of the original should be acknowledged by referencing the letter as indicated: Copyright transcription: © Olive Schreiner Letters Project. This transcription can be freely used as long as copyright is acknowledged and it is referenced using the following citation: ‘Olive Schreiner to Frances (Fan') Schreiner nee Reitz, 3 February 1920, UCT Manuscripts & Archives, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription’. Please also supply letter line numbers for specific quotations.
The Project is grateful to Manuscripts and Archives, University of Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscripts and Archives Collections.
1: 9 Porchester Place
2: Edgware Rd
3: Feb 3rd 1920
5: Dear old sister
7: I must tell you that I saw Edna & Oliver at their rooms yesterday.
8: Both looked very well, but darling little Edna really looks as if she
9: might realize Ursies wish & have twins. But I expect ^its only^ that,
10: wisely, wears all her things quite loose. She looks so sweet &
11: mother-like. The little cradle is packed away as it was getting soiled
12: with the London smoke. How glad I shall be when a little head rests in
I was so surprised to hear from Edna that you had sold Villa Flandre
16: Where are you going to live. Will you just stay on at St James. I fear
17: you will find it lonely in the winter. Your dearly loved sister Mrs
18: Joubert being gone must make a gap in your circle. I wonder if Ursie
19: has moved into her own house yet. Does Alsie Musket live near her?
I am waiting so anxiously for news of Dots arrival in her new home. I
22: like Colonel Greggs eyes so much, they are such good loving eyes. Have
23: you heard or seen anything of Cron I met Lady Winchester the other day
24: in the library. She spoke so lovingly of you. You have left many sweet
25: memories behind you, dear. Do you ever long to see London, or is
26: Africa best to you My dear friend Miss Alice Greene was buried on
27: Saturday in Cornwall near to the sea she loved so. I wanted to go down
28: to the funeral but was not fit enough. She suffered
In the papers last Sunday I saw that old Theo had passed away. He had
33: gone through long years of terrible suffering. I wrote to him when
34: Will died. I’m glad I did so. I heard from him twice. I am now the
35: last of the old brigade. I wish Kate Stuart had not divided him so
36: from all of us.
The weather is better here today. The snow has left off melting & the
39: air is drier. Is it very difficult to hire little houses or
40: unfurnished rooms now at the Cape. Food I suppose though not so cheap
41: as it used to be is not so dear as here. I bought a tin of condensed
42: milk today it cost 7d more than on Saturday. The government are taking
43: off the control & all the prices are going up rapidly. I saw some Cape
44: peaches in a window to-day, little tiny miserable peaches 1/6 each,
45: larger ones 2/2 & 3/6 each. They can’t be so dear as that with you.
46: Tiny colliflower enough for one person, are 1/6 each!!! & they say
47: things will grow much dearer as the year goes on! If the government
48: can do nothing to keep the wealthy from making the vast profits they
49: are doing now, there will be a revolution in this country – & that
50: will only make things worse. The streets are quite different from what
51: they were when you left. They are just crowded with motor cars filled
52: with splendidly dressed women in fur cloaks & dresses that cost as
53: much as £500, & people pay as much as £25 for a seat to go & see a
54: boxing match. Give my love to Ursie & Bill & Sidney & kiss the Ollie
55: boy for me.
My love to you dear
There is a page or pages missing from this letter between 'She suffered...' and 'In the papers...'. Katie Stuart had send to family members a 'round robin' letter describing is great detail the dying of Theo Schreiner, as follows:
10. Victoria Court Flats,
CAPETOWN, 29th Jan.1920.
It is a sacred and precious privilege to let you know some of the details of our beloved Oubaas's homegoing. He was, as I thankfully reported in my Xmas circular letter, remarkably better then, and I honestly believed and hoped he might live many years yet, five at the very least. Looking back, I realise now how blind I was and also how much this blindness was encouraged by him and was in accord with his self-sacrificing life.
He was always longing for motor drives and on Saturday, 20th December, kind friends offered us a motor trip to Hout Bay, which he eagerly accepted. Unfortunately, it turned out a hot windy day and the mere excitement brought on one of his heart attacks, usually lasting only a few minutes. In the ?starin he threw off his jersey and would not put it on again until after we had motored past Wynberg and the air grew cooler. He, consequently, caught a chill and had a touch of bronchitis, which kept him indoors some days and its paroxysms of coughing at the later stages, when he insisted in being up and about, increased the hernia trouble enormously. He insisted on going again on Boxing Day with my sister and brother-in-law, Mr Bateman, (on which occasion little Maurice and Rosie accompanied us) as he thoroughly enjoyed the exercise, fresh air and the being once more in close contact with his beloved Peninsula mountains. He was delighted beyond words each time at the owner's kind consent to our climbing the hill beyond Hout Bay and motoring to the very end of the made road towards Noord Hoek, and thanked God again and again, as well as our kind friends, for the privilege he felt it to be to get into close contact once more with such glorious mountains and sea scenery.
We took the same trip again on Tuesday, 30th, with the Cresswell's, this time, by his special request, making it a whole day's excursion as he wanted to rest and breathe in to his heart's delight the glories of the glorious view at the top. His joy, his delight was pathetic, and I think what he enjoyed most of all was when we all explored further and left him alone with God and nature.
His determination to take these trips, despite the bronchial trouble, made an anxious time for me, but, on the whole, they seemed to do even the cough good. Previous to these drives we had an exceptionally festive and happy Xmas time. Not only did we have Starr and Maurice and Mrs. Martin and Pat to spend Xmas day with us, but Oubaas insisted, during Xmas week, on our having all the dear Batemans - Izzie and 6 children - for a whole day, and the Browns - a day too. He took such a personal interest in my taking them all to see Garlicks and Stuttafords shows, and quite amused us by his alert outlook lest I should by any chance provide a lesser menu for which what he called 'my people', the Browns and Cresswells, as distinguished from those belonging more to me.
We spent the early days of the New Year quietly and I shall ever be grateful that I restrained even my longing to see Starr and Maurice in order to give all the New Year to him. He was so thankful at having got over the bronchitis and we hoped might regain lost ground when alas! the terrible hernia sufferings increased and, combined with the terrific heat, gave him sleepless nights. In my little blue notebook I wrote across the days 11th to 17th Jan. 'Heat terrific. Oubaas suffering agonies from hernia and heat. Trips to Kalk Bay and Camps Bay for relief! Crowded trains, and return to heat again, undoing good of sea breezes'. He hated changes and loved his dear little flat, but in desperation at last agreed to my looking for lodgings at Kalk Bay or elsewhere. On the Sunday I could not leave him at all and he suffered so increasingly from breathlessness and oppression as the day grew hotter that in sheer desperation, at his own request, we took a train after dinner to Kalk Bay. The crowds were awful and he said, 'Oh! Katie, I cannot stand being in this godless throng'. At St James the cool air speedily revived him. We had hoped to meet Aunt Fan, but her phone was out of order and I was too exhausted to go and tell her he was at the station, so I left him there and went on to Fish Hoek in hopes of getting a cottage there. One of the railway men told us that there were vacant rooms at the steps and by a fatal mistake Oubaas thought it was at the Trills' house and to my surprise agreed willingly to walk up and see the rooms whilst I was away. This he never ought to have done and I shall ever deeply regret it. I hurried back from my vain search at Fish Hoek, very anxious, and found him near the Convent returning slowly, having had a heart attack. He was nonetheless wonderfully braced by the cool air and seemed fully determined to get away from Capetown heat for a month, if possible, as daily trips in search of sea breezes, even if only to Sea Point, were becoming a strain on him.
He was much better all Monday and I attended the Salvation Army meeting in the City Hall as he wished me to go, though I had not left him of an evening for sometime. During all those last ten days of acute hernia sufferings, shortness of breath and relentless sleeplessness, he was too sweet and patient and beautiful for words, insisting on my going to my room for to sleep in the small hours of the morning. I had to give him hot irons and a little nourishment frequently. One night, I forget which, I fell asleep against my will from 1 to 5 a.m. and woke with a start, hoping he had slept too as I always awoke on hearing any movement. Alas! He had spend an even worse 4 hours than usual, but was triumphant at having succeeded in not disturbing me. We were both getting worn out and it was a comfort when on Tuesday I succeeded in getting two suitable rooms at Kalk Bay. Oh! if only I had given up the search and realized how near the end was! He would not let me books the rooms without his seeing them first and this led to a heavy day for him on the Wednesday that undoubtedly hastened the end. From 12 to one we had a motor as he wished to see the two new hostels, for which we have the otp option of purchase, and he got out at each place and inspected them, at the one even mounting upstairs and sitting on the balcony, where a short heart spasm gripped him. He was charmed with each place and insisted, as we had the motor, in picking up at Loop Street the Dutch Temperance Catechism he had promised Dr. Viljoen and leaving them at University Buildings, the chauffeur and I carrying them in. After lunch we left for Kalk Bay and he liked the rooms and all arrangements, but I felt distressed at seeing how tired he was and by a foolish mistake we lost the 6.24 train and had to stay till the later one, which exhausted him severely and he would not take any nourishment.
I think that was the worst night he ever had and we were thankful when doctor prescribed a sleeping draught for Thursday - the last day of his life. He was rather nervous about taking it and I was so anxious that I kept up all night, for which I shall ever be thankful. He said next morning 'I'll never forget it Katie that you stayed by me all night!' He slept for one hour and with the second dose five solid hours and oh! he was so glad and happy when he woke and said, with such gratitude 'the nightmare's gone and I need never suffer so much again! We'll try and do without it, but when I can't sleep I'll take the sleeping draught, it has not hurt me at all, it's been heavenly!' He seemed quite cheered up until he found how swollen the poor legs had become. The day before he kept saying, 'I seem to feel them swelling every moment' and the sight of them was a great shock to us both, and he asked me to phone for doctor. For the first time he allowed me to him sponge himself off, a task he has so carefully and thoroughly performed every morning, taking longer and longer over it so that I was much troubled, but only three times could persuade him to let me give him a tepid bath. These baths he enjoyed immensely, like a little child, but even then he wouldn?t let me do much.
The night's sleep and my aiding him to wash and dress made him brighter at breakfast than for many a day, and I treasure all the envelopes of the morning's post, with his pencilled memos on each as he opened them. He was always happy when any money came in for the Hostels or the 'W.P. Schreiner Memorial Fund' and the ?100 from Mr. Michaelis on the previous Wednesday morning had filled him with delight and also some smaller sums from old Kimberleyites. Though he hated me to be away, hearing that our previous maid Sarah was very ill, he insisted in my going out to Maitland early on Wednesday morning to see her and give her 10/- for little comfrots, and when I returned he was so delighted to show me the cheques that had arrived.
For over ten days he had scarcely been able to sing at family prayers, complaining of shortness of breath, but on that last morning on earth he sang the while hymn through heartily 'O child of God, wait patiently', leading the singing as neither the maid nor I knew the tune well. His dear voice rang out clearly in the same room where only 5 hours afterwards he passed away '
(Last verse of Hymn 172 Sankeys)
O child of God, how peacefully
He calms thy fears to rest; And draws thee upward, tenderly
Where dwell the pure and blest:
And He Who bendeth silently
Above the gloom of night.
Will take thee home, where endless joy
Shall fill thy soul with light.
Somehow the last lines sent ^a^ quiver through me of premonition and fear! But even then I never dreamt the day had come of which we had sometimes talked, wondering when and where the Master would part us. He was feeling so well he wanted to go to the Savings Bank himself to pay in some dividends of the Sister Schreiner Trust, but, fortunately, let me go instead, and I hurried back as soon as possible to find that the Cresswells had called and he had begged them to stay to lunch, interviewing the maid himself as to what she had for lunch and could prepare. It was wonderful how much he opened his heart to Nadia during that time, telling her what he had told Ellen after I left that morning that he had been concerned at reading in the newspaper how a poor doctor had committed suicide through suffering and sleeplessness and to each he said 'Poor fellow! I can understand his doing it, but my trust is in God and He will lighten the burden for me'. The Master did more than that. He lifted the burden off altogether! Soon after I arrived a severe attack came on, due I think to the sudden rising of the South Easter and consequent falling of the temperature and perhaps to the front skylight being left open. A sudden chill always brought him suffering. This attack was the worst he had had for a long time and lasted half an hour, longer than ever before. I applied all the usual remedies and helped him all I could. Hearing his groan, Cousin Wyn, who had come in, opened his bedroom door to ask if she could help. 'Oh! don't let anyone in' he said, but I think he did not know it was dear Wyn. After changing his damp pyjamas, which he had consented for the first time to wear during the day, he sat in the big chair beside his bed and there saw doctor and also Wyn and Em, taking, as ever, the same bright interest in all their affairs. Doctor said 'We want to get you fit to go to Kalk Bay on Monday', but to me the doctor said 'we cannot decide till Saturday whether he can go, but the change might benefit him,' Whilst I was away, Ellen, the maid, gave him a beaten egg, but he only took a sip, saying it tasted like poison, a remark he had made more than once during the last few days about food. He didn't want to eat and he couldn't sleep, but it seemed to us more the heat than his heart.
He insisted on my going to serve lunch to the Cresswells, wanted Wyn and Em to stay too, but they would not seeing we had visitors. Oh! I am so glad they saw him when they did. His last words to Wyn were of gladness that Lyndall was giving satisfaction at his new post in the Surveyor General's office, which Oubaas had got for him. Ellen took in a dainty little lunch, boiled stock fish and his favourite calabash marrow, but he only took 2 mouthfulls and said afterwards 'I ought never to have taken them'. The little table and the untasted lunch and his specs beside the tray are burnt into my memory. I could not bear anyone to touch it and that evening ate the lunch myself as a holy sacrament! the last food I was ever permitted to prepare for him!
Before our lunch was over I heard him groan and went at once and from then never left his side nor ceased to help during the attack upon attack that came and the mortal agony he passed through. The big attack at noon had made me think he would have no more for a while, as at other times. Nothing helped, not nitrate of amyl nor applications of heat. He came back to the sitting room and in turn the Cresswells and I squeezed the left arm where the pain centred, or held the hot irons on his back, shoulders and chest, wherever the pain was. 'I can't last if this pain lasts' he called out, and once or twice 'more irons! more irons!' Each moment we hoped the agony would cease. At last Nydia said, 'We'd better go Aunt Katie as we can't help him' and I said 'Yes! it is better, but in a few moments he may be quite himself again'. She stooped to kiss him and he looked up with a heavenly smile, 'So sorry I couldn?t pay you m-ore attention, dear!? 'Of course not' said Nydia 'you can't help the pain. Say goodbye children, but don't trouble Oubaas for kisses'. (The little ones always loved hugging him). 'No' said he 'I want my kisses'. And he lifted his head and kissed each girlie! the last ones he kissed on earth. That was at 3p.m., at 3.30 he was gone. The pain kept on and grew in intensity and he began to call on God. 'Oh Lord help! Oh Lord have mercy!' And then in Dutch 'Heere hebt genade:' 'oh don't burst from my lips!' 'Who else can I call upon' was his reply. There was a brief break in the suffering and then a fresh spasm of pain that bowed his head to his knees and a wondering shout of astonished surprise, 'Katie, I'm going!' 'I'm going Katie' with a final triumphant ring 'Goodbye Katie Goodbye' and he was gone. I knew he was gone, but I couldn't and wouldn?t believe it. We had phoned for doctor and in that last spasm I sent Ellen to beg the chemist to come, so I was all alone when he passed away.
At the gate Ellen met Sister Nannie, kindly sent of God, and as Nannie opened our door I said 'Nannie help, he's not gone, he can't be gone' and she rubbed his hands and did what she could, but all in vain. Then doctor came and our last hope died. We phoned for Will and he seemed there in a moment. Those minutes of agony for him and me can never be told. He lifted the dear body himself and carried him to his bed, while where Nannie and I, helped by Ellen, performed the last sad rites. Oh! he was so lovely! but not quite as beautiful and handsome as on the Sunday. It's awful to fight with death as I did when he came to claim my loved comrade, master, teacher and friend of 32 years! I shall be thankful if its to be my last contact with the grim relentless foe till he gathers me in myself. But even in those moments of agony a cooling balm like ice fell on my brain and nerves as I realized 'No more pain, no more suffering, safe Home at last!' and though the mist grows deeper and the wound bleeds sorer, the joy of his release and his triumphant entry into the Great Beyond unreadable - so far and yet so near us - grows too and I try to rejoice in his joy as I know he would like me to do. Despite the agony, it was a beautiful death, so swift, so pure, so sweet, the very clothes he died in as sweet and clean when we took them off as those of a little child, and thanks to Hoogendoorn's beautiful ice system, the dear body remained as pure as a marble statue to the end. All death's worst horrors were not allowed to touch him, pure and holy: God's saint! To the very end. I could only feel as I gazed on my dear dead how very few have ever passed away to their Maker with so clean a record. During 32 years of closest comradeship I don't know that he ever said or did or wrote anything he need be ashamed of. He possessed just enough loveable faults, impatience, and at times irritability to make him human, but ne'er to mar the divine. All those last days are burned into my memory.
What followed is not so clear for I was stunned. Starr sent little Maurice out to see him at once. Sitting on the couch where beloved Oubaas had passed away I told Maurice that Jesus had called Papapa and he was gone, only the dear quiet body left, and then we took him in to see the dear remains, lying as if in gentle sleep! All our dear ones came to see him before Hoogendoorn iced the precious remains at 9 p.m. till Sunday morning, 9 a.m., and dear Wyn brought sweet white flowers to lay on top of the quiet iced form, of, which I enclose each a pressed bit.
Your room is all ready for you whenever you want to come. I am sending Maurice at once to see dear Papapa, and Will thought you would rather I came in with him to-night. It is a grievous loss to you all, to me too, most of all of course to you. God comfort you dear sweet Mother.
Your loving daughter
The above beautiful note is from Starr, whose love and care for me has been a great comfort. They took me straight home from the funeral and I've slept at 'Oakdene' every night since, unreadable coming to the flat from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. for work. Darling Wyn and Emma stayed with me all through from the homegoing of our love done till the funeral. Little Pete, Oubaas's canary, who is very old has outlived his master and has not sung a note since he died! The little birdie's silence seems to hurt me more than anything. On Sunday we gave him the last of the chickweed Oubaas had gathered himself on the Thursday for his little pet. He loved the botanic gardens and the roses this year were his delight and only a few days ago he pointed out some Barberton daisies there and said 'they always remind me of the drive to Barberton in the postcart when I decided to adopt you and Will and Annie' (my two fatherless children).
His one desire all along was that when God took him I should 'carry on' all his labours, especially for Prohibition. By his will I am left sole heir and executor and also his successor on the Sister Schreiner Trust, and by God's help I hope to follow and 'Carry on' as he did in simple faith and obedience. By severe economy, practised most upon himself, there are a few hundred pounds invested, which will bring in a few pounds per month. But that is all as he could not insure his life.
I thank God for the children and the homes open to me, not only at Claremont, where Starr's home is opened so wide and lovingly, but at the dear Hostels too, but I just feel that the time for permanent quiet rest for me is not quite yet and that as soon as I am rested (and I do need rest) I'll buckle on the armour and by God's help do missioning and organizing work once more. Dear Will and Starr are arranging for me to spend a month from Feb. 15th - March 15th at Muizenberg with Starr and Maurice. I would like to keep the little Flat on as a centre of prohibition propaganda and, ^also^ if possible, attend the World's Convention of the W.C.T.U. in Edinburgh on April 18th. If it's the Lord's Will He will provide the funds and, if not, His Will is unreadable best.
This 'round letter' from Katie Stuart is a typescript and all typing errors above are in the original.