Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for He that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.”
—Eccles v. 8.
After this adventure Jack matured much more quickly. His manhood grew in him apace, and with it came courage and energy, and the spirit of enterprise. He thought often of England now, wondering at the silence and inaction of all his relatives. That, before he wrote to them, they made no sign, he would not have wondered at, if he had known all the truth. The Syrian servants of his father, who had abandoned him in his illness and stolen his baggage, brought back word to Aleppo that both father and son were dead of the fever. For obvious reasons they did not remain in the city; but the story came to the ears of the Consul, and he had no reason to doubt its truth. He opened some letters which had been sent to him for Grayson, and having thus discovered his brother’s address, wrote to tell him what had happened.
Ignorant of all this, Jack was sometimes tempted to unkind thoughts of his relatives in England. He even occasionally allowed himself to think, with a touch of bitterness, that they were finding the Grayson money very convenient, and that it might go hard with them to give it up if he should reappear. But the thought, like snow in a warm climate, did not rest. Jack’s was essentially a generous nature. It was an added wonder, however, even greater than the first, that they never answered the letter sent them through Thomassian.
But wondering and watching was idle work; and Jack, now a man grown, began to ask himself why, if he really wanted to go to England, he did not go? It would be difficult, and it might be dangerous, but all the better for that! What hindered his borrowing a horse, asking Hohannes to give him whatever remained—if anything did remain—of his father’s money, hiring a Turkish servant, and making a dash for Aleppo? Once there, the Consul would help him; and soon after his return to England he would be of age, and able to act for himself.
What hindered him? Certainly not the perils of the way, though these were very real. He had passed beyond that stage now, finally and for ever. The thought of peril, far from daunting him, now made his blood tingle in his veins. Then what hindered him? He was an Englishman, and he had his life to live, his inheritance to claim, his birthright to recover. But still more he was something else, and that something—not yet expressed, not yet acknowledged even in the depths of his own heart—held him fast in the little town by far Euphrates.
At Shushan’s first home-coming he had been very shy of her. But in brotherly intercourse that had worn off, and a pleasant “camaraderie” had grown up between them. He read English with her, using the two books he had, his father’s Bible and “Westward Ho”; and she had an Armenian Bible which they used to compare with the English. Well she loved its sweet words of promise, and often she would point them out to Jack and to Gabriel, who generally shared the lessons. But their talks were not all grave; they had many a quiet laugh together over her broken English, and sometimes Jack would tell her stories of his own country, and of things that happened there.
She in return would talk of Urfa: of the dear American school, of her beloved Elmas Stepanian, and her other friends. She would describe the American ladies of the Mission: tall, grave Miss Celandine, revered as a mother, and her bright young colleague Miss Fairchild; Jack’s fair-haired lady of the ferry-boat, whom, however, he entirely failed to recognise from her description.
But since the battle with the dogs and the gift of the towels, his shyness had returned in full force. So much so that when, with great trouble, he caught in hunting, and brought back to her, one of the pretty little gazelles the Armenians love to keep as pets, it cost him more trouble still to present his offering. But he was rewarded by the light in Shushan’s lovely face, and the smile with which she spoke her gentle “Much very thanks, Master John.”
Yet the passion that began to grow in John Grayson’s heart was two-fold. Love and burning indignation were so closely twined together, that he could not have severed them if he tried. As his whole development since his illness had been slow, so it was but slowly and gradually that he grew to understand the conditions under which Shushan and all the rest were living. But when he came to realize them fully, he wished at first to escape and fight his way to the coast, so as anyhow and on any terms to get out of that horrible country. But he wished afterwards to stay, and stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with these, the desolate and oppressed, whom he so loved.
Never, perhaps, has oppression been at once so comprehensive and so minute. The iron entered into their souls; and at the same time their fingers were vexed with innumerable pin pricks. Jack had seen a hundred times, without much notice, the rude wooden ploughs in use in the district—mere hurdles with pieces of iron stuck in the end; but one day it occurred to him, on some provocation, to abuse them roundly, and to ask if there was not a smith in the country who could make a decent ploughshare.
“Our smiths could make anything yours could,” said Avedis, with whom he was walking.
“Then why don’t they?”
“I thought you knew.” He lowered his voice and whispered, “Daajeek” (Turks).
“You mean they won’t allow you?”
Avedis nodded. “Wait till we get home,” he said.
The conversation was resumed, where alone such conversations were safe, though not always even there, within closed doors.
“I know,” said Jack, “that the Turks hate machinery.”
“They detest it, and they fear it. They think every machine the work of Shaytan—the Devil.”
“I can’t help thinking,” said Jack, “of the Dark Ages, and of what I read of them before I came. Here are men of the twelfth century, with their feet on the necks of men of the nineteenth. It’s bad for both. They must be puzzled with you, and afraid of you, as a Norman Baron would have been of his Saxon serfs if they had understood all about steam and electricity, while he thought those things mysterious works of the Devil. But I wonder how long he could have kept them serfs?”
“As long as he had arms, and they had none. More especially if he was backed up from outside,” Avedis answered sadly. Then he sang softly, as if to himself, two lines of an old Armenian national song—
“If I cannot have a Christian home,
I will have a Christian grave.”
“Yon Effendi,” he resumed, “their hate of us is growing every day. And now, I think, they mean to make a full end of us.”
For rumours of terrible and wholesale massacres were reaching them every day. Now it was about Sassoun, now about Zeitun, now about Marash and Trebizond, that these things were whispered from lip to lip. Such rumours kept them in a continual state of apprehension and panic; for they knew not what to believe, and had no means of learning the truth. It was easier to know in England what happened in any town of Armenia than to know it in another town of the same country. The Turks of Biridjik triumphed openly; and some of them boasted to their Giaour neighbours that they would soon have all that belonged to them. Some of the Christians thought they were all sure to be murdered; others remembered there had been just such a scare seventeen or eighteen years before, but that then it had come to nothing; so they thought that now also things would just go on as usual, neither better nor worse. Others again thought anything between the two extremes that their fears or their fancies prompted.
John Grayson thought, for one, that certainly for the present he would stay where he was. “It is not in the hour of danger one rides away and leaves one’s friends behind,” he said to himself.
More than four years had passed now since his first coming to the country. He was twenty years of age, full six feet with his slippers off, with light brown hair and beard, fair complexion well tanned by the sun, English blue eyes, and frank, fearless English face.