THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
A NEW LIFE
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
I think it was old Thales (I’m nearer the Greek philosophers out here than I ever was at college) who held that the earth was nothing but certain elements in a state of constant change. Everything is changing all the time. And the inhabitants of the earth have the same chance and luck as the earth, and follow the same law. It is well expressed from the standpoint of the moment of time in which one is placed by the favorite Turkish proverb: “This also shall pass!” Typically Turkish, that proverb: for the Turk never interprets any event, never tackles the solution of any problem, except in terms of himself and the present. Yesterday is like to-morrow. It is a waste of time to worry over either. In crises Turkish philosophy is excellent. It helps a lot to create nerve and maintain fortitude if only you can keep saying to yourself with conviction: “This also shall pass!”
Scrappie is beside me as I write, in the reed basket we bought from the Fellahin. I am propped just high enough on the pillows to keep my eye on her. I watch her all the time to see if she is really breathing. I have heard of wives making husbands get up in the night to see if baby was breathing, and scoffed at the folly of it. But I’m going to confess to you that I’ve had two panics. Each time I assured Herbert that this happens only with first babies, but that doesn’t seem to mollify him. There never was such a fellow for sleeping as Herbert. However, wouldn’t it be awful if the baby’s covers got up over her head? You understand how I feel, don’t you?
Miette, “bread-crumb,” is the name Jeanne Imer gave Christine in prospect. It also means a little scrap of anything: so Herbert and I translated it into Scrappie. The name had the advantage of being non-committal on sex. So Scrappie she is to us. Perhaps you will give her another pet name in Paris. But we rather like ours—I never heard of another kiddie having it.
The birth of your grandchild was not a whit less dramatic than the events preceding. There was a “situation” right up to the last. I wrote you about the plan to gather foreigners in two defended consulates if there was a new massacre at Mersina. The massacre didn’t come off. We shouldn’t have gone anyway. Miss Talbot was as game as we were to stay on with the Dodds. The improvised hospitals in Adana called for all available medical men. The ship surgeons, with their pharmacists, all went to Adana. The Mersina mission doctor was working among our Tarsus wounded. I was altogether doctorless. At daybreak of Scrappie’s birthday, Mr. Dodds swept the horizon of the sea with his telescope. We were expecting every day relief ships, with Red Cross units, from Beirut. A speck developed into a steamer. Without waiting to ascertain more, Mr. Dodds threw himself into his rowboat. Two husky servants of the mission were at the oars.
It was lucky Mr. Dodds did not hesitate longer. But he is not that sort. It was a ship from Beirut, and there was an American surgeon aboard. Doctor Dorman walked into my room just in time.
Everybody in the Mission feels that the placid little baby, with her great blue eyes, is the symbol of hope. Scrappie knows nothing of what the wicked world is doing and how all around her are dying and suffering. She is unadulterated joy. Miss Talbot tried her best, but there were no drawn blinds and pale wan mother. Folks came in to offer congratulations, and make a fuss. I was glad they did. The refugees in the compound celebrated by gathering on a roof below and singing. Some were sorry for us, because it was not a boy, but, after all, if Madama wanted a girl—how queer of Americans to be glad to have daughters!
No one around the Mission had time to celebrate with Herbert, and there was nothing anyway to drink the baby’s health in. Herbert went out to send telegrams to the Doughty-Wylies and the Christies, and the cablegram to the Estes. He says he kept saying to himself as he went down the street, “I’m a father!” It’s like men to be proud and take all the credit, which just now I think belongs to me. Herbert went to the British wigwag station, but the sailors couldn’t leave their post. So he had to order a bottle of beer at Flutey’s all alone. Just then a German lieutenant drifted in. Herbert told him the good news, although he had never seen him before, and he drank the toast as sympathetically as a young bachelor could1.
On the morning of Scrappie’s advent, after a hurried breakfast, my doctor rushed for the Adana train. I haven’t seen him since. Nor any other doctor. Miss Talbot is superb. I couldn’t have better care. Mrs. Dodds cooks for me herself, and serves my meals. She thinks Miss Talbot is over-careful in prescribing my diet. When Mrs. Dodds brings soft-boiled eggs, she whispers: “Eat half of this quickly. Miss Talbot thinks there is only one, but I’d like to see any one go hungry in Belle Dodds’ house!” Until today, when I am first able to write you, they kept pillows out of my reach—books, too. Herbert is too busy to be with me. He has had to go to Tarsus and twice to Adana. Two days after Scrappie came, the Major telegraphed for him to come to take the witness-stand before the court-martial. Lawson Chambers had gone on relief work in the interior, and Herbert was the only other foreigner who saw the beginning of the massacre. It was a risky business, but I have got used to letting him go. The tragedy is too great for individuals to count—or to think of themselves.
With Herbert away, and Scrappie sleeping most of the time, and no books, all I could do was to sing. I’ve gone over all my favorite songs—and many that weren’t favorites have been hummed through to the end. I refused to be deterred by the fact that I am under a roof where singing is mostly confined to the metrical version of the Psalms. Mr. Dodds, however, gets away bravely from psalms when he comes to sit beside me of an evening. He loves to hold Scrappie, and sing to her, “Shut Down the Curtains of Your Sweet Blue Eyes.” Herbert delights her with “Macnamara’s Band.”
I have had other visitors in this first week. Most welcome was the chaplain of the British cruiser Swiftsure, of whom we had seen something before Scrappie arrived. (Note how I date everything by Scrappie?) Scrappie was about fifty hours old when he turned up with a bottle of old brandy under his arm. I was glad to have his call—and the bottle—just as Herbert was going off once more. And with my door open—it could not be shut all the time—I could hear those dreadful telegrams being read that kept coming from Kessab, Dortyol, Hadjin and other towns of our vilayet and of Northern Syria. Everywhere it was the same story.
Yesterday a second American battle cruiser arrived. It was the Montana. The North Carolina came in several days ago. The first officer to land from the Montana was Lieutenant-Commander Beach. When he came to the Mission to call, I asked Miss Talbot to bring him in. He stayed some time, and would have cheered me up a lot had he not mentioned that Lili Neumann was dead. He did not know, of course, what Lili was to me, and I managed to say nothing. Under other circumstances it would have been a bad shock, but just now nothing seems to go too deep. However, my face must have told him I was suffering, for he looked down so kindly, and asked if there was anything I wanted. “Because, by Jove! you can have the ship,” he declared. I told him I hadn’t seen ice for ten months. “Just the thing,” he exclaimed. A few hours later, sailors brought a huge rectangle of the most delicious thing in the world. There was also a bottle of Bols curaçao, and a sweet note. People are good.
Mr. Dodds and Mr. Wilson and Herbert got to work on the ice with hatchets. Mrs. Dodds made ice-cream last night and again for lunch today.
I must stop this letter, which has been written largely on the inspiration of that ice-cream. Miss Talbot has scolded me twice, and she hasn’t seen other times that I got the paper and pencil under the mattress too soon for her.
I cannot leave it, though, without telling you of another invaluable helper. The very day of Scrappie’s arrival, a wee, sawed-off Armenian woman came in. I heard somebody say “Sh,” but she started in her toothless Jabberwocky. Miss Talbot tried the effect of cool, insistent English, but she couldn’t put Dudu Khanum out. For Dudu Khanum squatted down on the floor, and I snickered. Miss T. thought I was asleep. She went to get Mrs. Dodds to interpret. In the meantime, Dudu Khanum addressed me. She rolled up her sleeves and held her arms out and then up over her head the way you do when you want to stop hiccoughs. All the while she talked volubly. It wasn’t Turkish. I had learned some of that. As it didn’t sound like a gang of wreckers pulling down a house, it wasn’t Arabic. Must be Armenian. I recognized Dudu Khanum as the sister of the agent who gets our things out of the custom-house. Finally we learned what it was all about. Dudu Khanum was saying: “I have no gift to give you, but I have these two hands. Let me do your washing. I shall wash all your things and all of the baby’s.” The blessed old thing comes early every morning. What garments Mrs. Dodds allows to escape from her own capable hands, Dudu Khanum washes, and hangs them to dry upon the sun-baked roof.