Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“It is not in the shipwreck or the strife
We feel benumbed, and wish to be no more;
But in the after-silence on the shore,
When all is lost, except a little life.”
John Grayson sat alone in his prison room. It was a very different prison from the two he had known before—a room of convenient size, fairly clean, with a divan along one side under the grated windows, a mattress to sleep on, a rug, and several cushions. A comfortable meal—almost untouched however—lay near him on a stool. Moreover, he had been permitted a bath, and allowed to purchase clothing, anything he wished. He had chosen to have an ordinary jacket and zeboun, and a crimson fez.
He sat on the divan in an attitude of deepest dejection, his face covered with his hands. Continually the scenes of four days ago were passing through his mind, and before his eyes.
He saw them all again; he thought he should see them always, till his life’s end. The band of confessors were led out of prison; they stood before the Turkish Kadi. A single question was put to them: Would they become Moslems, or would they not? Thomassian, in every way the foremost man amongst them, answered for the rest: “We follow Christ; we are ready to die for Him.” With one voice all signified their assent.
The executioner began with Dikran, the youngest. John Grayson veiled his face, but not till he had seen too much. Could he ever cease to see it? A deadly faintness swept over him, from which he was roused by Thomassian’s brave words of comfort and encouragement, spoken to the victim: “Dear boy, be strong; it will soon be over! you will soon be with Christ.” Then came the poor lad’s own murmured words of confession and of prayer, ending at last with one strong, joyful “Praise to Jesus Christ!”
John Grayson looked up again. It was time; he was wanted now. His turn had come. At that supreme moment, faintness and sickness, and every trace of fear, passed from him. One thought possessed him wholly—God was there.
Yet, he could have shaken like a leaf at Thomassian’s sudden call to the executioners, “Hold, I have something to say!” Martyrdom could be borne, but the moments of suspense that followed seemed the most unbearable he had ever lived through. He heard Thomassian protesting, “It will be on your peril if you touch this man. He is an Englishman; I know it. He can prove it if you give him time; which, for your own sakes, you ought to do.”
Jack might have said this himself till he was hoarse, and the Turks in their present state of frantic excitement would not have listened to, still less have believed, him. It was different when a man of mark, a “notable” like Thomassian, averred it solemnly and at the point of death. Their orders not to kill foreigners were precise and stringent, and hitherto had been wonderfully well obeyed. There might be trouble if they were transgressed. Jack was informed that it was not the will of Allah he should die that day; and, to his sorrow, was led away, without seeing what became of his fellow captives.
He was transferred that evening to a comfortable room, and told he might order any conveniences he desired and could afford. He begged to be told the fate of his friends, and was informed that several of them had died “with unparalleled obstinacy”; the rest were reserved for another time.
“Was Baron Thomassian amongst the dead?”
“No,” said his informant, with an evil smile. He was much the worst, and should stay till the last.
As for himself, what were they going to do with him?
Let the Effendi give himself no uneasiness on that score. His Highness the Pasha had been informed of the circumstances, and would take care of him. Probably he would send him, under a safe escort, out of the country. But nothing could be done until order was restored, and the town quiet. “Let the Effendi be patient, and put his trust in Allah. The Effendi knew things had to go—Jevash—Jevash.”
Jack was very miserable. How could he take pleasure in the comfort of his surroundings, when he knew what his friends had suffered and were suffering? Only for Shushan, he would not have cared at all to live. He asked if Miss Celandine was gone yet.—No, not yet. There was some delay about her passport, his informant thought. But no doubt all would be ready soon, and she would go. Would the Effendi like to take exercise in the prison court? If so, he was quite at liberty. No one wished the Effendi to be incommoded; it was entirely for his own safety he was placed under restraint, until the rebellion amongst the Armenians should be put down.
Two long, slow days, Thursday and Friday, wore on. On Saturday morning he was aware of some unusual excitement in the court of the prison. The prisoners there, who were all Moslems, hung together in groups, talking eagerly, and more than once a word reached his ears about “killing the Giaours.” Moreover, he heard shouts and cries from outside, increasing gradually until the uproar became terrible. The extraordinary sound of the “Zilghit” reached his ears, but he could not understand it.
The guards who brought him his food shared in the general excitement and exhilaration. After returning their “salaams,” he said casually, “It is a fine day,” to which one of them answered, “It will be a bad one for the Giaours”; and the other added, “It will be wet in the Armenian Quarter,—but the rain will be red.”
He entreated them to tell him more; but they would not. Evidently they had their orders. Did the Effendi want anything more? No. Then peace be with him.
They departed, securing the door behind them, as he thought, with unusual care.
Peace was not with him. Instead of it, a fierce tumult raged in his heart. On that strange Christmas morning, when he thought himself about to die for the Name of Christ, there had been a calm over him which was wonderful, “mysterious even to himself.” The conflict was not his, but God’s. God had called him to it, and would bring him through. He was very near him, and would be with him, even to the end.
But the chariots and horses of fire, which the prophet of old saw about him, did not stay. When the hostile hosts departed, the resplendent vision vanished too. Martyrdom at a distance, martyr strength seems at a distance also; sometimes it even seems unimaginable. Patient, powerless waiting is often harder than heroic doing or suffering. Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to be brave and strong for others, when they have the peril and the suffering, and we the bitter comfort of compulsory safety.
But the longest day must end at last. Evening brought to John Grayson the doubtful pleasure of a companion in misfortune. This was a handsome young Turk, who seemed much amazed, and still more annoyed, at the predicament in which he found himself. Paying little heed to his companion, he walked up and down, cursing certain persons, apparently his own kinsfolk, in the name of Allah and the Prophet, with true Eastern volubility.
In one of these perambulations he accidentally kicked over Jack’s tray of food, and stopped to ask his pardon very politely, of course in Turkish. “I think,” he said, looking at him attentively, “I think you are a Christian?”
“Yes,” said Jack. “In fact, I am an Englishman; though I have been in this country for some years.”
“Oh! Then I suppose you are the Mr. Grayson I have heard my friends speak of?”
Jack bowed, then added immediately, “I am unutterably anxious about dear friends of mine who are in the Armenian Quarter. Can you tell me how it has been with them to-day?”
The young man turned his face away and did not speak.
“For God’s sake, say something,” Jack cried; “say anything; only tell me all!”
“It was the will of Allah,” said the Turk.
“Have you killed them?” Jack gasped out.
“Yes, a great many. Chiefly men and boys. But I did not see the end. That uncle of mine—Allah give him his deserts!—had me taken up and clapped in here.”
“What? For killing our people?”
The Turk stared. “That were merit,” he said. “No; what I did was to resist a soldier, a Hamidieh. In fact, I struck him. But what would you have? A man must have friends.” He sat down, and taking out his tobacco pouch began leisurely to make cigarettes, apparently with the purpose of restoring his calmness, imperilled by the thought of his wrongs. “The matter was this,” he resumed: “I passed by a long row of Giaours, fine young men, lying on the ground with their throats cut. In one of them I recognised a friend, and looking closer, saw he was not dead, for the work had been very ill done. Just then this Hamidieh came by, and wanted to finish him. Like a fool instead of giving him a couple of medjids, I gave him the butt end of my gun. I took my friend to my house, and thought no more of it; but, by the beard of the Prophet, what did that rascal do but go and complain to his captain, who knows my uncle, and must needs go to him? Then my uncle informs against me, and has me put in here, to keep me out of mischief, as he says. Curse his mother, and his grandmother, and his wife and his daughters, and all his relations, male and female, unto the fourth and fifth generations!”
Apparently, the Turk forgot that amongst these relations he was cursing himself.
Jack listened in horror. “Only tell me who are slain,” he said. “How many?”
“How should I tell that? I could only see what I saw with my own eyes.”
“Do you know aught of the Meneshians?—or of the Vartonians?”
“Yes; I fear that all of both families are killed, with perhaps one exception,” he added slowly, stroking his beard. “I saw the mob burst into their courtyard.”
“Oh God, it is horrible!” Jack said with a groan, and covering his face. After a while he spoke again. “The Stepanians?”
“Of them I know more. With my own hand I shot the Pastor.”
Jack sprang on him, his eyes blazing, his hand at his throat. He had nearly been a martyr, but he was an Englishman, and a very human Englishman too.
“Let be,” the Turk gasped, cool though choking. “A moment, if you please.”
Jack loosened his hold. “You can strangle me, of course, if such be the will of Allah,” the Turk continued. “But you may as well hear me first. For, if you get free, you can tell your people the words of Osman.”
“Osman! Are you then the Turk I have heard the Pastor speak of so kindly? That you should sit there before me, and tell me you have killed him!—killed him! How could you?”
“Can’t you understand?” the Turk returned with an expressive look. “There were his daughter and all his children looking on. His last thought was for them. ‘Do not touch me here,’ he said. Was I going to let them see him cut to pieces? At least, I could save him—and them—from that. He had not a moment’s pain.”
Jack stretched out his hand to him impulsively, but drew it back again. “I cannot touch your hand,” he said; “but I can say from my heart, God bless you!”
The Turk went on: “I could save the dead from insult, and I did. I wanted to save the children too, and might have managed it, but for my fool of an uncle.”
“Is Miss Celandine—are the people with her in the Mission House all safe?” Jack enquired. He had little doubt of it, yet he could not help the beating of his heart.
“Oh, yes; they have a special guard of zaptiehs. Only an hour before the killing began the Pasha sent to Miss Celandine, to say that now she might leave the city; everything was safe and quiet. But she has not gone. Perhaps she thought she could help the other Giaours by staying. That however she cannot do. Even her own people are not safe beyond the Mission premises. A young lady in her charge had gone into the town with a guard of zaptiehs, to see her dying father at the house of one Selferian. She never returned. Mehmed Ibrahim, who has long wanted her for his harem, took care of that. In fact, I believe the summons to her father was a pretence, and the whole thing a plot of his. I saw them leading her away—Allah!”
With a cry of agony John Grayson fell senseless on the floor.
The Turk sat gazing at him, without stirring hand or foot. To use any means for his restoration was the last thing he would have thought of. Allah had stricken him, and Allah would restore his senses—when He pleased. A logical Western might ask, why he did not reason thus in the case of his Armenian friend, or of the Pastor and his family; but a man’s heart may be sometimes better than his logic.
Jack at last recovered consciousness and struggled to his feet.
Osman did not know the story of his marriage, but he drew his own conclusions from what he saw “How hard you Franks take things!” he remarked by way of consolation. “Now there are in the world a great many girls, any of whom a man can marry, if he pleases.”
“Don’t,” Jack said hoarsely.
“My dear fellow,” the Turk went on kindly, “I am very sorry for you. See the advantage it would be to you now, if you were only a true Believer. We lose a wife, and we are very sorry—oh, yes! But then, you see, we have so many, it is only just like losing a cow. There are others quite as good.”
Jack, fortunately, did not hear a word of this. He stood as one bewildered; then made a sudden rush to the door, which he pulled and shook with all his might.
“What are you doing?” asked the Turk serenely.
“I must get out!” cried Jack. “I must get out and save her.”
“You cannot save her. She could not be more out of your reach if she were up there in yonder sky. Take my advice, and be quiet. It is the will of Allah.”
“I must get out!” Jack shouted, once more shaking at the door.
“You had much better stay where you are. If you were out, you would do something rash, and bring trouble on yourself.”
“On myself?” Jack repeated in a voice of despair. “For myself, there is no trouble any more.”
“I could tell you how you might get out, if it were really good for you,” Osman mused; “but the truth is, I do not want more of you to be killed. I am sick of all this misery and bloodshed.”
“Osman Effendi, I think you have a kind and pitying heart; therefore I pray you to help me now, and so may God help you if you ever come to a bitter hour like this. I must get out, or I shall go mad.”
“I wish I could do you a better service—but if you will try it, wait until the morning light. Then the killing will begin again. They are going to let the Moslem prisoners out that they may take part in it, and thus deserve their pardon from God and the Sultan. Tell the jailor, when he comes to us, that you want to walk in the courtyard. That he will allow. Once there, you may be able to slip out unnoticed among the rest. Take my scarlet fez instead of your crimson one, and see, here is a green kerchief to tie over it.”
“The fez I take, and thank you; the kerchief—no.”
“As you please. I wish you well, Grayson Effendi, and if I can help you in anything, I will. Should you want a refuge, come to my mother’s house. You know where it is. In fact, that is the best thing you could do,” he added. “My people will make it known you are an Englishman, and then no one will even wish to hurt you. There will be a mark set upon you, as it were.”
“Ay,” cried Jack wildly—”the mark of Cain—’lest any finding him should kill him.’ To save my own miserable life, and see all I love perish around me! Is that what it means, the mark of Cain? He saved himself, others he did not save.”
“I do not understand you.”
“How should you? I don’t understand myself. I think I am going mad. Only I know it was not that mark which was put upon her forehead and mine; it was the cross of Christ, and that means just the contrary—’He saved others, Himself He did not save.’”
The young Turk took the cigarette from his lips and stared at him, wondering. Into his hard, black eyes there came for an instant a perplexed, wistful look, like that of a dumb creature who longs and tries to understand, but cannot pass the limitations of his being. At length he said in a softened voice, “When I get out of this cursed place, with the help of Allah and a handful of good medjids, I will try to do what I can to help your people. But now it is the hour of prayer. I will pray, and then try to sleep. Grayson Effendi, you ought to pray too. It may be Allah the Merciful will hear you, though you do not acknowledge His Prophet. He may remember you are a Frank, and make allowance.”
For John Grayson there was no prayer that night. His anguish was beyond words; and as for tears, their very fount seemed dried up within him. Even the simplest cry to God for help seemed to freeze upon his lips. Where was the use of it? He had prayed with all his soul, and God had not heard.
How that long night passed, how he watched and waited for the morning, none would ever know. The morning light came at last, though it brought no joy with it. He continued however to hold off the anguish of his soul, as it were at arm’s length, while he made himself carefully up to look as like a Moslem as possible, though avoiding the green kafieh for conscience sake. Assuming a tone of indifference, he made his request of the jailor, who, with his mind running on killing Giaours, muttered a careless assent.
For a good while he lingered about the court, joining one group or another so as to avoid suspicion. At last the prison gate was opened, and, lost amidst a crowd of Moslem criminals, who were rushing out with tumultuous joy to earn at the same time Paradise and pardon by killing Giaours, John Grayson made his way into the street.