Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“Now with fainting frame,
With soul just lingering on the flight begun,
To bind for thee its last dim thoughts in one,
I bless thee.”
Miss Celandine’s thoughtful kindness had screened off a little corner in the crowded Church Hospital, where Gabriel’s bed was placed, and there was room for Kevork and John Grayson to sit beside him, when they could. Elmas also came often to see him. When Kevork first returned, he had brightened up so wonderfully, that the restored brother hoped they might be left together. But there was no real return of strength, and the temporary excitement ended in a reaction that meant increased weakness and suffering. Yet neither Jack nor Kevork wished to face the truth; they both, especially Kevork, clung to that frail young life—tenaciously, desperately.
One day, not long after the arrival of Dr. Sandeman, Jack drew aside the curtain, and came in. Kevork was there already, and made room for him to sit down.
A smile passed over the sick boy’s wasted face, but it was soon succeeded by an anxious, troubled look. “Yon Effendi,” he said, “you are grieved to-day. What is it?”
Jack smiled too. “Oh, Gabriel, those fingers of yours!” he said. “There is no escaping them.”
It was a saying amongst them that Gabriel, whose hands were useless, had been given “fingers in his heart,” instead; for if there was any special sorrow or need, he always knew it by some instinct, and, figuratively speaking, put his finger on the place. For now, on his own account, he had no more grief, no more fear; his heart was all “at leisure from itself” for the griefs of others. He smiled again in answer, and not sadly at all. “My fingers touch a trouble of yours, which yet is not all a trouble,” he said. “You have been talking to the American Badvellie.”
“Yes, and to Miss Celandine. And they both advise me to go home.”
Kevork turned a startled face to him. “But there is no use in thinking of it,” he said quickly. “They would not give you a passport, after what you have done.”
“That is just what I said. There is no blood upon my conscience, but upon my hand there is blood enough. Were I to apply, as things are now, for a passport, my antecedents would be looked into, and I should never be allowed to leave this land alive.”
“They would never kill an Englishman,” said Gabriel.
“Not openly in broad daylight, but in one way or another, I should disappear.”
“So I think,” said Kevork eagerly. “You must run no such risks as that, my brother.”
“Dr. Sandeman has a different plan,” Jack said. “That fine young fellow, Vahanian, wants to stay here to be with Baron Vartonian, and to help among the wounded. What if I took his passport, and went to Aleppo in his place?”
“You would be found out.”
“The doctor thinks not. He almost undertakes to put me safely through. I can dye my hair and stain my face a little. Not much will be needed, so well your suns have browned me.”
“Then, Yon Effendi, your mind is to leave us,” Kevork said sorrowfully, almost bitterly.
“My mind is not to leave you,” Jack answered. “Only I want to know which thing is right to do.” He looked tenderly at Gabriel as he added, “A while ago, I could not have gone. I could not have left you alone, Gabriel—but now you have Kevork. God has given him back to you from the dead.”
“God has given Kevork to me,” Gabriel said; “but what is He going to give Kevork? For, you know, I cannot stay with him!”
“Don’t speak that way,” Jack said hastily.
Kevork was more visibly overcome. “I cannot go on alone,” he said. “I cannot. Gabriel,—you must not go.”
Gabriel was much worse that night; and early in the morning Jack went for Kevork, whose sleeping place was in another part of the crowded Mission premises.
“Come quickly,” he said. “I think he is going from us.”
Kevork sprang up from his mat, threw a jacket over his zeboun, and, choking down a sob, followed his friend in silence. The sweet morning air, which had the touch and thrill of the springtime in it, fanned their brows as they crossed over to the church, where Gabriel lay.
“Who is with him?” Kevork asked.
She was kneeling beside the dying boy, and as they entered looked up with her calm, sweet face.
“He is easier now,” she said.
“You will try to be glad for me, will you not?” Gabriel whispered; “you know it is best.”
“You will soon be with them all—your father and mother, and my Shushan,” Jack answered.
“I shall be—with Christ,” Gabriel said.
“For whom you have given your life.”
“Who gave His life for me.”
But his dark, wistful eyes turned away, even from the beloved Yon Effendi, to rest upon his brother’s face.
“There is some one else I want to see,” he murmured. “Stoop down, Anna Hanum.”
He whispered a name into her ear.
She said, “Yes, dear,” and glided softly away.
“It is Miss Celandine he wants,” both the young men thought. Jack took the place beside him. He lay still, with closed eyes, resting. Only once he opened them, when a moan from the crowded space outside was heard through the curtain.
“Some one is suffering, Yon Effendi,” he said. “Please go and help.”
Kevork was left with him alone, his tears falling without restraint.
“Don’t, Kevork,” he whispered; “there is comfort coming, for you.”
Jack returned presently. Miss Celandine, who had not been sent for, came in also, and with her—Elmas Stepanian.
At the sight of the beloved teacher, Gabriel tried to raise himself; but it was more than he could do. He looked at her appealingly. “The hand—that has saved us all—to my lips—once more,” he prayed.
Instead of giving him her hand, she stooped down and kissed him, lip to lip, and motioned to Elmas to do the same. In her face he looked earnestly, while he gathered all his remaining strength to speak.
“Oriort Elmas, Kevork has loved you ever since he was at school in Aintab. All the rest are gone from him; I am going now. It is too hard for him to stay here alone. Will you comfort him, Oriort Elmas?”
“If I can,” she answered soothingly, as one speaks to the dying.
“But I want to hear the Promise—on the Book—before I go.”
She drew back, her face flushing crimson, and looked at Miss Celandine in perplexity.
Kevork drew a step nearer and spoke. “Oriort Elmas, it is quite true. Though I would not have dared to say it now, had not he said it for me; for we stand together in the shadow of the grave. But if this dear lady, who is a mother to us all, will allow it, and you will give me your promise, there is nothing man may do”—(his voice quivered and thrilled with suppressed feeling)—”nothing man may do that I will not do for you, and find my joy in it, for I love you more than life.”
Elmas Stepanian’s character, strong by nature, had been annealed in the furnace of affliction. That furnace had burned away the bonds of those timid conventions that usually held the daughters of her race. In a low but firm voice she answered, “If Miss Celandine approves, I will give it.”
Jack was standing beside Miss Celandine. He took out his father’s Bible, which he always kept with him, and put it in her hand, with a significant look from her to Kevork. She understood the mute appeal. If she gave the Book to Kevork for the purpose they all knew, it would be her act of sanction to this strange betrothal.
She paused a moment: then she said, “The God of your fathers, and your God, bless you both,” and laid the Book in the outstretched hand of Kevork.
Kevork gave it to Elmas. “So I plight my troth to thee, for good days and evil, for health and sickness, for life and death, and for that which is beyond,” he said.
“And I also to thee,” Elmas answered.
“Now it is all right,” Gabriel said, with a look of infinite relief. “I will tell them.”
“But you are very tired,” Jack interposed, noting a rapid change in his face, and turning to get a cordial he was accustomed to give him.
“Kevork,” he whispered, “take Oriort Elmas away. There are too many here.”
“No,” said Miss Celandine; “I think you had better stay. Mr. Grayson, never mind that cup; he cannot take it.”
There followed a few minutes of struggle and suffering; a brief conflict of the spirit with the failing flesh. It was soon over. Once more the look of peace settled down on the wasted face, and now it was for ever. Gabriel looked around, and recognised them all. Then, in that action so common to the dying, he slowly raised his right arm, and waved the bandaged, helpless hand. “With His own right hand, and with His holy arm, hath He gotten Himself the victory,” he said with his parting breath.
His brother closed his eyes, and the others mingled their tears with his, until at last Miss Celandine said gently,—
“My children, he needs our care no more; and there are many waiting without who still need it sorely.”
“I will go with you and help,” Jack answered.
So they went, leaving Kevork and Elmas kneeling together beside their dead.