THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
THE STORM APPROACHES
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
This afternoon I sent Socrates to the station with the buggy (the word is not misused—we have a real American one). Herbert was to return by the afternoon train. An hour later, Socrates came back alone and told me that “bad things” were happening in Adana. There was a massacre starting. Yesterday four Armenian women were killed. This morning there was killing begun in vineyards just outside of the town. While he was telling me this news, a telegram mercifully arrived from Herbert. It read: “_Reviendrai demain. Aujourd’hui tout bien._” Herbert’s French is far from what it might be. But telegrams in English are not accurately transmitted in Turkey.
When I went over to Mrs. Christie’s sitting-room for afternoon tea, I found several Armenian women there, among them the mothers of two of our teachers. One mother was begging for permission for her son to sleep at the college. He came later, bringing his precious violin, which he asked me to hide for him. I put it back of our bathtub. The other mother was in tears. Her son is in Adana for the holidays with his bride. This poor woman has a right to fear. She lost two children in the 1895-96 massacres. One little girl was trampled to death by a squad of Turkish soldiers. The son, our Armenian professor,–the one in Adana—was saved with the greatest difficulty, having been hidden for several days in the dark corner of a mill.
Excitement grew this afternoon. Patrols are going through the streets. We are told that this is done to calm people. The unrest is showing itself. I asked Socrates not to repeat what he had seen and heard. Panic is contagious. He was unmoved by my caution. He shook his head, saying, “It is going to be very terrible, very terrible.”
I wish it were not Easter vacation. So many of our boys have gone to their villages. They would be safer here. Dr. Christie and Herbert and Miner would not be in Adana. If this had to occur, why not when college was going, and we were all together? The regular routine would do much to keep minds occupied. When you are busy, you are normal, no matter what may be going on around you.
I wasn’t afraid last night. I slept the whole night through. This morning there was quite a crowd of Armenians in the school dining-room. They look to us for protection and food and shelter. They are terror-stricken, and have reason to be. How would you like to live in a country where you knew your Government not only would not protect you, but would periodically incite your neighbors to rob and kill you with the help of the army?
Socrates asked to be allowed to go to the station again to see if Herbert came by the morning train. Off he trotted, leaving me to my sewing. He came back in the greatest excitement. At the station all was confusion. People jumped off the train, and shouted madly that the whole of Adana was burning. Immediately a mob formed, and some of these men seized the buggy and made off with it, leaving Socrates to get home as best he could. Henri Imer had gone over on horseback, and he had a bad time too. His horse was struck by a Turk, but he succeeded in getting away. He went right to the barracks and found the buggy there. Henri secured permission for Socrates to bring it home.
Another telegram has come from Herbert saying, “Tout bien. Retournerai Tarsous aussitôt que possible, peut-être pas avant demain.”
The afternoon train failed to appear.
Just before dark, the boys of the Sub-Freshman class who were spending the Easter vacation at the college came and told me they wanted to be my bodyguard. They are to sleep tonight on my balcony—the balcony on the inside of the building just outside my bedroom. Their beds, mattresses and blankets have been given to refugee women for the little children. It is April—but still cold at night. I have taken from the walls and floors all our Turkish rugs—every single one of our treasures—and spread them on the boards for the boys to sleep on—or under. They mean absolutely nothing to me. I do not care if they are lost in the confusion.
Johnny tells me there is not much oil in my lamp. I cannot be without light. It may be needed badly in the night. It may be vital for me to have light. To get candles and petroleum from the large school-building was impossible for the boys. The precious things might be taken from them in the crowd. For our compound is filling: and many of the refugees we do not know at all. I must go with the boys. I shall take Kevork and Samsun as well as Socrates. To be without Herbert at a time like this! These blessed boys of mine are splendid. They are thoughtful, devoted, courageous, and most delicate in their attention. I could not be in better hands. The best in people comes out at a crisis. If I live through these days, I shall never cease to cry out against the supercilious, superficial travelers, who, enjoying a sheltered life for themselves and their loved ones, say mean things about Armenians—even that they deserve to be massacred—that massacres are their own fault. All I can say is this: May God Almighty forgive them their judgments, for they know not what they say. My Armenian boys and my Greek Socrates are every bit as fine, every bit as thoroughbred, as Anglo-Saxon boys of the best blood and training.
I am back safely—with oil and candles, too. Now I am ready for what may come in the night.
In the assembly-room of the big school-building, some of the refugees had gathered around the pastor of the Protestant Church. It was an impromptu prayer-meeting. They were singing hymns. I do not understand Turkish, but, as they use our tunes, I knew the hymns. It was a comfort to steal in, and sit down for a while among my fellow-sufferers. Only eight months ago, when we first came to Cilicia, and went to church up in the Taurus Mountains summer place, I remember how queer these people looked to me. They belonged to another world. I was an outsider. I had difficulty in understanding some traits of their character. I was hasty in my judgment of them—hasty through ignorance. I was impatient with their constant fear of what “might happen any time” to Christians living under Moslem rule. I had no conception of what “might happen any time”—that was why. During the singing, I looked up to the ceiling. The trap-door brought back vividly the day when Daddy Christie had showed it to me, saying, “We have that for use in time of massacre.” I had laughed. The constitutional era was here. Those were things of the past. Probably it is a mercy that youth and inexperience make one refuse to believe that bad things—horrible things—which have happened to others may come in one’s own life.
We sang softly (for the sound must not get outside) “Lead, Kindly Light.” The hymn had never meant so much to me. For, until now, there never had been “encircling gloom.” I understand now. Because I need the Light, I ask for it.