“GOD SATISFIED AND EARTH UNDONE”
Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“And if with milder anguish now I bear
To think of thee in thy forsaken rest;
If from my heart be lifted the despair,
The sharp remorse with healing influence press’d,
It is that Thou the sacrifice hast bless’d,
And filled my spirit, in its inmost cell
With a deep, chastened sense that all at last is well.”
John Grayson had been directed by Miss Celandine to go to the parlour where Shushan had bidden him farewell, and to wait for her there. It looked as if it had had many occupants since, and as if some of them were still in possession. Yet for the moment he was alone, a thing unusual in that crowded house. His heart was filled with a sense of unspeakable rest;—and, after rest, came thankfulness;—and with thankfulness a fresh burst of weeping, his tears growing ever gentler, ever softer and more full of healing.
In those blessed tears he found again his hope and his God. Christ was no dream, but a living, loving Power, strong to save. He had been with his beloved one, and had delivered her. Once more, in the darkness, his hand touched that right Hand, so strong and so tender, which at once upholds the universe, and supports the failing heart of every tried and tempted “wrestler with the Spirit until the breaking of the day.”
So already the cross of Christ, laid upon both their heads, had been taken from Shushan’s young brow, and she had received instead of it the crown of life! While he—who loved her, who would love her until his life’s end—he had to bear it still. But it was the cross of Christ, and not the brand of Cain. Not that. Never that again! Never more would he wander aimlessly amidst the dying and the dead,—
“Beating in upon his weary brain,
As though it were the burden of a song”
that hideous travesty of the enemy’s splendid, unconscious testimony to his crucified Lord:
“He saved himself, others he did not save.”
Rather perhaps might he be permitted, in some humble way, to follow Him, and help to save others. Of himself, there seemed little left to save now. The traveller whose purse is empty sings before the thieves; and if he has been just relieved of a crushing, killing burden, his song may even be one of thanksgiving.
He did not know how long he had been waiting in that room, when another person came in and sat down, waiting also. She had with her three pale, frightened-looking little children. Had he judged by her dress alone, he would have thought her an Armenian woman of the very poorest class; but one look in her face made him know her as a lady. It was a very sorrowful face—what Armenian face was not sorrowful then?—but it was also very beautiful, and it bore the unmistakable impress of a refined and cultured mind. He felt sure he had seen her somewhere before; she was associated somehow in his mind with a box of sweetmeats, an odd fancy, for which he could find no reason. But his thoughts soon left her, and returned to their own engrossing theme.
“Thomassian Effendi,” said one of the children presently, in a wailing voice, “won’t you take me up in your lap? I am tired.”
Jack looked round in surprise. Could this be indeed the beautiful, luxurious, cherished wife of Muggurditch Thomassian? He spoke his thoughts aloud.
“Madame,” he asked, “do I speak to the wife of Baron Thomassian?”
“To his widow,” she answered calmly.
So much Jack knew already, and he wondered if the lady knew any more.
“Have you had certain tidings of his—” He paused for an instant, unwilling to voice the word.
“Of his martyrdom?” the widow said proudly. “Yes; he has gone home to God. The way was long and rough, but the end was peace.”
“Then you know how nobly he witnessed for his Lord?”
“We know that he was found faithful.”
“I was with him almost to the end,” Jack said.
Then he told the story of his imprisonment, and of Thomassian’s courage and faithfulness. Every word was as balm poured into the bleeding heart of the new-made widow.
“And now, madame,” he said at last, “how is it with you in your loneliness?”
“As I suppose you know, we have been robbed of everything. My husband was known to be a rich man, and our house was one which invited plunder. What does it matter? When a scorpion has stung you, you do not feel the prick of a gnat. All I want is a handful of rice to feed these poor little ones.”
“Are they—relatives perhaps?” asked Jack. He knew she had no children.
“No; they are poor orphans I found in the street crying for their mothers. It helps me in my desolation to have them to think and work for. That is why I have come to Miss Celandine. I think she may give me something to do, I care not what. Anything to keep these from starving, and me—in another way.”
“Perhaps you can help her in caring for the wounded.”
“I fear I have no skill for it. I am not like Anna Hanum, whom you may have seen, and who is to Miss Celandine as another hand.”
Jack remembered, with a pang, that he himself owed Baron Thomassian money, which he had no means of repaying. Other people dropped in gradually, to wait for Miss Celandine, and began to comment upon her long delay.
“Amaan! Something fresh must have happened,” they said. Of course they meant some fresh calamity. What else could happen there?
At last food was brought in, great dishes of pillav and of soup, with bread—meat there was none.
“I would Miss Celandine were here,” Madame Thomassian said to Jack. “She will not have tasted food since the early morning. Only that God gives her strength, for our sakes, she would have been dead long ago.”
Presently there was a stir amongst them all.
“Here she comes,” passed from lip to lip.
She came, but not alone. Her arm was around the waist of a tall, slender girl, who but for its support might have fallen to the ground. Another girl, much younger, clung to her side, and two boys followed, the elder carrying in his arms his little brother, a child of three. Her wasted, sorrow-stricken face was lit up with a glow almost of triumph.
“We have got them all!” she said.
Those in the room rose up and crowded round. Some said, “Park Derocha!” others wept aloud for joy, for all knew the Pastor’s children.
“Oh, if the Badvellie could only look down and see them all safe here!” some one cried.
“He does not want that,” Madame Thomassian answered quietly, “for he knows the end of the Lord.”
The children were soon seated on the divan. Every one wanted to kiss their lips, their hands, their feet even. Their clothing was an odd mixture; Elmas wore a dress of Miss Celandine’s, the rest, whatever garments had come first to hand, for the Turks had stripped them of almost everything.
“My zaptiehs have just found them in a mosque, and brought them to me,” Miss Celandine explained. “They are starving.”
Indeed the lips of little Ozmo were already quite blue; he seemed unable even to cry. Some one ran to get milk for him, and in a short time all were being fed and tended by loving hands.
Then everybody ate, in a primitive, informal way. Jack had his handful of rice and his piece of bread with the rest, and no food he had ever tasted seemed to him more wonderful than this. He was eating with Christians again. There sat Miss Celandine, in her frail womanhood, a tower of strength to them all; there were the dear Pastor’s rescued children, pale and changed indeed from the unfathomed depths of suffering they had passed through, but all there, not one lacking from the little flock. There was the sweet face of Elmas, his Shushan’s friend. And Shushan was safe too. God had not forgotten to be gracious, nor had He in anger shut up His tender mercies from them. Jack went over to Elmas.
“Dear Oriort Elmas,” he said, “do you know me? I am John Grayson. My Shushan loved you well. And you will be glad to know that she is—safe; so are all the rest, although Gabriel only is with us still.”
But now Miss Celandine was clearing the room, that the Pastor’s children might have the rest and quiet they so sorely needed. There was not another spot in the crowded mission buildings that could be given up to them. With those who needed her she would speak in the passage outside.
Jack waited patiently for his turn, and it came at last. It may have been a relief to the lonely woman to use the tongue of her native land again, for she took time to tell him how the Pastor’s children had been saved. “The captain of my zaptiehs saw my anguish during the awful days,” she said. “He was moved, and asked me was there anything he could do for me. I said, ‘Stop these horrors.’ He answered that he could not. ‘It is the will of Allah,’ he said, as they all say. Then I answered, ‘Find those children for me, and bring them here. They are mine; they belong to the Mission.’ And I described them all to him. I believe he sought them diligently; and now here they are at last, after nights and days of cold and hunger and of agonizing fear. Yet God has kept them. Now, as for you, Mr. Grayson, will you come with me? I have something to give you.”
He followed her to another room filled with people, where washing and cooking were going on. Motioning him to stay at the door, she made her way over beds, mats, babies and cooking utensils, to a press, which she opened, took something out, and came back with it. They went to the court together without speaking, and there, under the leafless branches of a fig-tree, John Grayson got back his father’s Bible, the Book of his betrothal. “Shushan said to me one day that if her end of the cross was the first lifted off, I was to give this to you. See, there is a bit of silk put in, to mark the place she was reading when she was sent for to receive her father’s blessing.”
Jack opened the Book, and these were the words his eyes fell upon: “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
He pointed them out to Miss Celandine, who only said, “’Of the Lord’s hand,’—it is that that makes it possible to live. But, Mr. Grayson, what will you do now?”
“Anything you tell me.”
“For the present, you will stay here with us, until the way opens for your safe return home.”
“Miss Celandine, you did not go home.”
“The passport, which I asked for more than two months ago, was only sent to me on Saturday, one hour before the massacre began. Then the Pasha was most anxious to get me away; he advised, he even urged me to go. So I knew that evil was determined against this people; and, of course, I stayed.”
“If you had gone, I suppose that not one of them would now be left alive,” Jack said.
“Certainly not one of the three hundred that were in our premises then,” Miss Celandine answered quietly. “Mr. Grayson, it is but poor hospitality I have to offer you. Not a room even, only a place to lie down in somewhere, and day by day a morsel of bread.”
“And safety, and peace,” Jack said. “If you permit me, Miss Celandine, I might spread a mat in the church, and give a little help, especially at night, to the wounded who are lying there. Then I could be near Gabriel, the only living thing left to me—of my own.”
“So you can. Here you must work, or you will die. But here also, if you serve Christ in His brethren, you will find Him. Another thing you can do for us: your strength is sorely needed to bring to us our out-door patients, and to help them back again to their homes, or rather to the desolated ruins that were once their homes.”
All this John Grayson did faithfully. In body he was never alone, by day and by night he lived in a crowd—a crowd of suffering men. But in spirit he “sat alone, and kept silence,” because he bore “upon him the yoke,” or rather, the Cross of Christ. He “put his mouth in the dust, if so there might be hope.” And there was hope for him, though the light was kindled at no earthly shrine.
It was his greatest comfort to wait upon Gabriel; but Gabriel did not think it well that time and trouble should be spent on him. “It is waste,” he said to Jack; “there are so many wanting your help who have hands to work with; better go to them, for what should I do, if I live?”
“God will see to that, brother.”
“I know; only, if you drop a handful of piastres in the street, you try to pick up the good ones first.”
Elmas Stepanian loved well to steal a few moments from the care of her young brothers, to sit by Gabriel and minister to his wants. His eyes used to brighten wonderfully when he saw her.
“You are so good and sweet,” he used to say. Once he added, “And, Oriort Elmas, our Kevork loved you so.”
Elmas did not blush or turn her face away; she only said quietly, “My dear father liked your brother well.” For indeed—
“Death was so near them, life cooled from its heat.”
Contrary to every one’s expectation, the little babe John Grayson saved took hold of its life with a will. Two or three times it was very near dying, but it always rallied. In spite of tainted air, imperfect nourishment, and other disadvantages, it gave promise of growing into a bright, healthy child. Anna Hanum, Miss Celandine’s helper, who had taken it first from John Grayson’s arms, brought it one day to show to him with pride and pleasure. But, as she held it up, he was far more struck with her own face than with that of the babe in her arms. It was full of peace, profound and utter, such peace as one may see in the faces of the happy dead, only this was a living face, glowing with some inner light of love and blessedness. When she was gone, he turned to Madame Thomassian, who chanced to be at hand, waiting for some work.
“It does me good to look at that face of Anna Hanum’s,” he said. “She comes among these suffering, broken-hearted people like a light in the darkness; ever ready to soothe the sorrows of others, because, alone of all here, she seems to have none of her own.”
“None of her own! Oh, Mr. Grayson, how little you know! Have you ever heard her story?”
“I have not.”
“Her husband was a long time ill—paralysed. The years went on, and she had a weary life of it, waiting on him night and day, and earning bread for both of them. Nor, they say, did he make her toil light by loving gratitude. She never complained, but the neighbours knew that sickness had soured his temper, and things went not easily with her. But she had one great joy, God’s good gift to her.”
The childless woman who told the tale repressed a little sigh, as she went on,—
“Her bright, beautiful, gifted boy was the pride of all the neighbourhood. She loved him with more than a mother’s love; and she toiled, and slaved, and almost starved herself to give him the learning she set such store by, and he thirsted for so ardently himself. He was the best pupil in the school here, and then he went on to Aintab and to Marash, where every one had the highest hopes of him. You may guess his mother’s pride when he came back with all his honours to see her, before beginning active life. He was just in time to receive his father’s blessing, and to close his eyes. But he stayed on a little while with her; and it was God’s will that he should still be here when the storm broke upon us. Mr. Grayson, they killed him slowly, with cruel torture, before his mother’s eyes. She stood by, strengthening him to the last, and bidding him hold fast to his faith and his God.”
“And she has come through that!” Jack said, much moved.
“She has come through that, and she has come forth on the other side. God has satisfied her with Himself. Now, her own burden gone, she goes about helping and comforting all the rest, with Heaven in her face, and Heaven in her heart.”
“’For I have satisfied the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul,’” John Grayson repeated to himself. “Yes, He can do it. These are the miracles He works now, instead of dividing seas and scattering hostile hosts.”
Meanwhile Madame Thomassian gathered up the needlework she had come to fetch—coarse garments for some of the many who needed them—and Jack could not help remembering the soft, luxurious life, surrounded by every indulgence wealth could procure, which had once been hers. Now she toiled on from day to day, content with the pittance which was all Miss Celandine had to give to the poor women who were thus employed, and contriving out of that pittance to feed the little waifs she had taken from the street.
Even as she turned and went her way, he heard her softly singing to herself that favourite hymn of the persecuted Armenians:—
“Jesus, I my cross have taken
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shalt be;
“Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought, or hoped, or known,
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and Heaven are still my own.”