Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“How soon a smile of God can change the world!
How we are made for happiness—how work
Grows play, adversity a winning fight!”
It was a bright July morning. After a prosperous voyage, the Semaphore was steaming in to Southampton Pier. John Grayson stood on the deck, looking at the shores of the native land he had never hoped to see again. Near him, though not speaking, stood Kaspar Hohanian; and a little behind them Artin and Markeret sat together, the sister telling her blind brother all she saw. The three had just been thanking the captain, with full hearts, for many kindnesses shown them during the voyage.
Presently the throbbing pulses of the ocean monster sank into stillness; the double gangway was laid across; and then ensued a frantic rush of eager passengers, laden with every description of the luggage called by courtesy “light.” Others stood on guard beside their boxes, or shouted to the porters, who were rushing still more frantically the other way.
Along with the porters came a tall athletic young parson, in a soft felt hat and clerical undress. With alert and cheerful aspect, he went about among the groups, looking earnestly at all the men, in evident search for some one. He bestowed a rapid glance upon Kaspar Hohanian, but turned away disappointed. Then he almost flung himself upon John Grayson—only to draw off again instantly, much disconcerted. “I beg your pardon,” he said.
Jack looked him in the face. It was a good face, and a strong face too—frank, manly, trustful and trustworthy. The young man’s complexion, naturally fair, was well bronzed by air and exercise, his eyes were English blue, his hair and beard light brown.
“I beg your pardon,” he said to Jack, with the slight, respectful inflection of tone a well-bred young man uses to an elder. “I mistook you for a cousin, who is on board, and whom I have come to meet.”
“May I ask the name?”
“Mr. John Grayson. We have not met since we were both schoolboys. So, you see, I am a little puzzled.”
“Fred—Fred Pangbourne, don’t you know me?” cried Jack, springing forward and seizing both his hands.
“I—I could not have believed it!” Fred ejaculated, horror-stricken. “My poor Jack, what have they done with you?”
That question could not be answered in a breath. “How is your father? How is every one?” Jack queried, evading it.
“Ah! so you did not get our letters, and have heard nothing. My father went from us years ago. The rest of us are quite well. Now you are coming with me, right away, to Gladescourt.”
“My Curacy. At present indeed I may call it my Rectory; since, in the Rector’s absence, I live in his house. Where is your luggage?”
“In this handbag.”
Fred looked surprised, but only said, “Let us come at once then.”
“Stay, Fred; I must look after my friends.” He turned to them and spoke in Armenian. “Kaspar, take care of your sister; I will look after Artin.”
Fred wondered who these people could be, but was too courteous not to offer his services. He thought the dark-eyed girl remarkably pretty, but felt provoked at the boy’s passivity and want of interest in everything, until Jack whispered, “He is blind.”
A few words in the strange tongue were exchanged with them; then Jack enquired, “Do you know about the trains to Manchester, Fred? Can my friends get there to-night?”
“Oh, I dare say. I will find out. But come on shore now. I have ordered breakfast at the Hotel; and,” he added, in the warmth of his heart, “will you ask your friends to come with us?”
“You can ask them yourself,” said Jack, smiling. “They speak English,—Kaspar very well, the others a little.” Then he duly introduced his friend Baron Kaspar Hohanian to his cousin the Rev. Frederick Pangbourne.
A couple of hours later, the three Armenians were safely deposited in the train for London, with full instructions how to change, when they got there, to the Northern Line, while Jack and his cousin were rolling swiftly in a different direction. Conversation, as usual in such cases, was intermittent, incoherent, dealing with trifles near at hand, rather than with the great things each had to tell the other. “Those Armenians astonish me,” Fred remarked. “Their manners are perfect. They might take their places, with credit, in any London drawing-room. But then, I suppose, they are of the highest rank in their own country. You called the young man ‘Baron.’”
“Oh, that is nothing! Baron only means ‘Mr.’ But I really think, Fred, from what I heard on board, that the English fancy the Armenians are a kind of savages. They are a highly refined and intellectual race, with a civilization older than our own, and a very copious and interesting literature.”
“But what a wreck your friend looks! Has he just come out of a great illness?”
“He has come out of what is infinitely worse—a Turkish prison. But, Fred, there are a thousand things I want to know. My poor uncle?”
Frederick Pangbourne told him in many words what may here be compressed into very few. When the tidings of the death of the two Graysons came to their friends at home, Ralph Pangbourne was just dead, and his eldest son was lying dangerously ill in typhoid fever. Young and experienced, and beset by many cares and troubles, the new squire, on his recovery, was quite unable to investigate the story sent to him by the Consul from Aleppo. Indeed, no one thought of doubting it; though all sincerely regretted these near relatives, left to lie in unknown graves in that distant land—
“With none to tell ‘them’ where we sleep.”
Had one of the young Pangbournes been free to do it, he would gladly have made a pilgrimage (attractive, besides, for the adventure’s sake) to the far East, to find the resting-place of his uncle and his cousin. But young Ralph, the squire, was overwhelmed with business; Tom, the second son, was in India, doing well in the Civil Service; and Fred was at Cambridge, preparing for the ministry.
There was another question. What of “the Grayson money,” as it was called in the family? It was no secret that, before leaving England, John Grayson had made his will, bequeathing the bulk of his fortune, in case of his son’s death without issue, to his nephew and namesake, John Frederick Pangbourne. But though they assumed, as a certain fact, the death of both the father and the son, the Pangbournes felt it would be a difficult matter to prove it in a court of law. Fred, the person principally concerned, entreated his brothers to let the matter rest, at least until the termination of the seven years of absence and silence which the law accepts as equivalent to a proof of death. He had, inwardly, an intense repugnance—a repugnance he could not account for to himself—to the thought of touching the Grayson money. In secret, and unknown to all the rest, he cherished a fancy that his cousin might still be found among the living. When Jack’s letter arrived from Aleppo, he exulted openly and heartily. A post-card which followed it having informed him that Jack was to sail in the Semaphore, he watched daily for news of the vessel; and it was with joy and gladness that he hastened down to Southampton, to be the first to welcome him on English ground. He had set his heart upon carrying him off at once to the sweet Surrey rectory, where his favourite sister, Lucy, kept house for him, and shared the pleasant labours of the rural parish. But he was not prepared to find, instead of a lad five years his junior, a worn, broken, grey-haired man.
He did not tell all, or nearly all, this to Jack, though he told a great many other things. The only reference indeed that he made to money matters was to say, “You must run up to town on Monday, and see Penn & Stamper. They will tell you all about my uncle’s affairs. You know, Jack, you are a rich man. Won’t they just have a balance worth looking at to hand over to you, after all these years?”
They got out at a little road-side station, and walked over sunny fields to a private door opening into a well-kept pleasure ground. Another minute brought them to the Rectory porch, over which climbed a beautiful wisteria. The whole scene looked the very picture of peace, of “quietness and assurance for ever.” Fred stopped a moment, to point out the spire of “our Church,” which was seen above the trees at the far side of the house. As they looked at it, a fair girl came running down to the door to welcome her brother. Blue eyes, golden hair, cheeks like a tinted sea-shell, coral lips and the sweetest of smiles, made up for Jack a vision of beauty bewilderingly new and strange. Yet he only felt it touch the surface of his soul.
After dinner, which was early, the two young men walked about together; Fred joyously and proudly showing his cousin the beauties of his home, which, he said, might be his for long enough, as his Rector, for special reasons, was residing abroad.
“It is a home of peace,” Jack said. Old, old memories were coming to life every moment. The sound of rooks cawing in the elms, the velvet lawn, the flowers in the trim parterre, the very feel of the air and hue of the sunshine, brought back those old days when his little feet had trotted over just such velvet turf, his little hand clinging to his mother’s gown. Ah, if she were here! And his father—the father who had been also his hero, brother, comrade, friend. Then a sweet thought brought sudden tears to his eyes. Surely the angels would see to it that Shushan found them out! His heart, bruised and sore with longings for what might have been, grew still. His Lily had a fairer home than this—
“Over the river, where the fields are green.”
The cousins went back to the house. Lucy poured out tea for them, and asked Jack, lightly and prettily, many questions about the strange places he had been in, and the strange things he must have seen. He answered evasively, with a reserve of manner which she thought very odd, until she hit upon the explanation that this new cousin—who was so young and looked so old—had been so long amongst wild, barbarous people, that on his return to civilization he was actually feeling—shy.
She was not sorry when Fred took him off to his “den,” as he called his very comfortable and commodious study. But she said, with a pretty monitorial air, and a careful eye to the sermon for to-morrow—”Remember, Fred, this is Saturday night.”
Then the real talk began. Jack, in writing from Aleppo, had simply told of his father’s death, and added that he himself had endured and seen much suffering, and that he was coming home to tell the rest. Now he poured forth the whole story into willing and sympathizing ears.
Lucy went up to bed that night wondering if Fred and the new cousin would ever stop talking, and full of anxious thoughts about the neglected sermon. As long as she stayed awake she heard their voices in the room underneath her own; and at last she dropped asleep, with the sermon still upon her mind.
Waking in the early summer morning, she heard steps in the passage outside her door, and words spoken that seemed to echo her thoughts.
“But your sermon?”
“I have got it. Good night—or rather, good morning.”