THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
A STEP INTO LIVING HISTORY
In one of our talks over her early life, Miss Alcock told me that though so intensely interested in history, she had never cultivated "a public soul." "I never felt it my duty to think about the world." "Rather the other way?" I said.
"Yes. And as to politics, I thought they certainly were not my business. I thought they were not fit for a Christian to have to do with: they were worldly, and to be left to the world. ‘Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. And then it began to dawn on me that there was one potsherd that strove for righteousness. That was what drew me so much to Gladstone: he said, ‘Let England do right, even when it seemed as if it might be against her own interests.’ " Yet a time came when she felt it her duty to plunge into politics and do her best to show that Mr. Gladstone was very much in the wrong. Like her father, she "never distrusted him"; but that was all the more reason for doing any small thing she could to protest against what she believed to be the wrong that he was trying to accomplish. Her spirit was stirred, and she wrote a letter to the Young Women’s Christian Association on Home Rule, which brought her the pleasure of a message of hearty thanks from Mr. Balfour.
At this moment, while the peace of Ireland trembles in the balance, it is not possible to enter into the subject.
Another passage of living history was now to claim her and call her to the front. In the autumn of 1896, while at Streatham, she had gone to a meeting about the sufferings of Armenia, and heard speeches which thrilled her soul; but what could be done? While Turkish rule continued, what could anyone do but send money to prolong lives which must be full of misery from which there seemed no way of escape.
On her return to Ireland the following year — the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee — Lady Lee Anderson asked her to meet a young American Missionary from Armenia, Miss Ida Mellinger. For years past Europe had been told that it was useless to send money to the Armenians, for it would never reach them. The Duke of Westminster’s Relief Fund, the work of Lady Henry Somerset, and still more the reports of Dr. and Mrs. Rendel Harris, had done much to break down that fallacy, carefully fostered by the Turk; but it was still very difficult for average people to get at the facts, and Mr. Frank Crossley, of Manchester, wrote to the American Mission and asked them to send home someone to tell England the truth. He would bear all expenses.
Every station was understaffed for the amount of extra work thrown upon it. There was only one woman who could be sent — this young missionary from Ourfa (Ur of the Chaldees?), who had nursed and succoured the refugees who came there after the massacre of Sassoun, caught fever from them, and was then resting at Smyrna, still unable to return to full work. But she could at any rate give evidence. In July, 1896, Mr. Crossley received her in Manchester. When Miss Alcock met her, she had been at work for a year, raising large sums of money, and had still a long programme of meetings before her; but Frank Crossley was gone. He died in March, 1897, and the three Relief Funds which might have received the money raised had been closed. Mrs. Crossley took up the responsibility for Miss Mellinger’s own expenses, and a little knot of friends — Quakers, High Church and Scotch Church — took the name of "The Friends of Armenia," and guaranteed the immediate expenses of rooms at the top of 47, Victoria Street, to make a London Depot for Armenian Industries, and receive funds.
In July, Miss Alcock met Ida Mellinger and learned what the American Mission really was. In 1819, the first men it sent to Asia Minor arrived; two more followed in 1826, intending to evangelize the Jews and Syrians; but no one wanted to be evangelized except the Armenians, who had clung to the Christian faith of their own Gregorian Church through centuries of oppression, with outbreaks of persecution — sinking lower and lower for want of teachers — even their Bible becoming a sealed book, as its language gradually became obsolete — but still holding fast their faith in Christ. The Americans brought new life. Naturally the lifeless and also the cautious in the Gregorian Church feared the new teaching might upset the old. The missionaries never wished to make a separation, but their converts were cast out, and but for the intervention of Lord Stratford de Redclyffe, the English Ambassador, would have been persecuted. He secured a charter of religious liberty in Turkey; so that we have there the strange spectacle of the whole American Mission (in 1898 numbering 140) preaching and teaching without interference, while both their converts and the Gregorians are subject at any hour to a sudden outburst of fanaticism that gives them only the choice of Islam or death.
Miss Alcock heard of thousands who had died for Christ — of their widows and orphans wandering about in cold and hunger — multitudes of orphans who have lost both parents, homeless, starving, hiding from the wild dogs in the streets: and every child might be safe and happy in the Mission houses if there were money to support them. The Turk respects the foreigner. In the height of the massacres, all who could crowd into Mission premises were safe under the American flag. And in those massacres, numbers of those who perished had their choice, and chose to die for Christ. Their orphan children were starving now.
Miss Mellinger had read The Spanish Brothers and The Czar. Suddenly she turned to their author and said, "Miss Alcock, will you write a book like The Czar about Armenia?" It seemed a thing preposterous — impossible! Miss Alcock had not the trace of a story in her mind, and knew nothing about Armenia, or of the customs of Asia Minor generally: nevertheless, the words followed her. She wrote to ask a friend’s opinion, and the answer was, "Yes, do it, do it, do it, no matter what it costs. Oh, what you will go through in doing it! It will wear you, wring your very heart, hurt you in health for the time — yet do it, if you die for it." She was coming over to Streatham: my mother encouraged her to call on our old friend Mr. T. W. Stoughton, and hear whether he thought such a story would have any chance of a hearing. He took up the idea at once. But to gain the end, everything depended on striking while the iron was hot in England, and before the children perished from cold in the coming winter. If he could have the MS. on October 1, he would undertake to bring it out for the winter season.
Miss Alcock engaged to be ready, please God, and went down to Ipswich to be "coached," on July 29, with no characters, no plot, no scenery — nothing but the title, "By Far Euphrates," and a vague idea of her hero — a young Englishman. I find recorded, "A thrilling time with Miss Mellinger." Ida told how the black Euphrates glows into gold at sunset. " The dark river turns to Light" — there was the "motive" for a martyr book; and among the host of soul-moving scenes and incidents related, the writer’s practised mind began to pick up the threads of a story. But what were two days to learn all the customs of an unknown people? My mother asked Miss Mellinger to come to us for a week, and carry on her instructions.
I was looking out for a meek, broken-down missionary. Up to our door came the Iowa girl, with her lofty bearing, and a face that drew me, and yet half repelled — it had gained almost a wooden look, from long, stern control of bodily and mental pain.
This and subsequent extracts are taken from a short sketch I wrote of Miss Mellinger’s Life.
We talked so exclusively on the one theme, some days passed before one felt sure that she had any life left in her, except for Armenia. She spent her days at the office, when not taking meetings, and came home in the evenings. All the evening we talked "shop" furiously — Miss Alcock either unfolding her scheme or reading over what she had written, and Ida on the sofa pouring in corrections, suggestions, and most graphic pictures of the different scenes. She was the "Miss Fairchild" mentioned at the ferrying of the Euphrates, and that scene is given almost verbatim from her lips. It was very interesting to watch how those two endured each having her good points knocked off by the other — Ida’s, for art’s sake, Miss Alcock’s for honesty: the cry when some beautiful little touch was proved unnatural — the sigh when some act of supreme heroism was ruled out, not to overcrowd the canvas — and how instantly each could appreciate the other’s reasons. Ida’s great working powers came out in the work; she had to leave for some meetings at the end of the week, but returned in a fortnight, to "sit on the literary committee." What sittings those were, as we came into the depths of the agony, and felt it till it was hardly possible to feel anything else! and yet the wording and the accuracy had to be minded.
On that second visit, my mother asked Ida to make this her home for the winter, in the intervals of her speaking rounds; and in planning each round, she managed to reserve frequent intervals for coming home to "coach" Miss Alcock.
What that task was to Deborah no tongue can tell. In writing, as ever, she keeps the ghastly details of horror out of her pages: she could not blot them out of her own mind. Long after, she looked at a high-backed chair which used to be in her room, and said, "How I have knelt on it and agonized for strength to go on, when I was writing By Far Euphrates! The indignation! And the longing — oh, the longing to do something to save those children!"
Yet in that terrible history there are scenes more glorious, more healing than any others this generation can have seen. In Ourfa the hapless Armenians crowded to their cathedral.
That night, in the vast Gregorian cathedral, a great congregation met. Many, no doubt, came there as to a place of refuge, hoping that even Moslems would respect that sacred spot. But they also came to worship, perhaps for the last time, in the courts of God upon earth. A band of heroic Gregorian priests — men who were ready to be offered, and who knew that the time of their departure was at hand — made of this last service a solemn and sacred feast. They showed forth the Death of their Lord, giving the bread and wine which He ordained for all time as its hallowed memorials, to the kneeling, awestruck multitude. On one of the pillars of that church, now in ruins, some hand, now cold in death, has traced the record that 1,800 persons partook of that solemn Sacrament. Never again should they eat of that Bread or drink of that Cup
Until the Trump of God be heard,
Until the ancient graves be stirred,
And with the great commanding word
The Lord shall come.
It was another trump that sounded in the early dawn of the next day — Sunday, December 29 — the signal for resuming the massacre.
The cathedral was fired, and every soul within it perished — to most, a mercifully easy death, as the smoke would suffocate them. Then the "Paydoss" (proclamation) went out that the killing was to cease, and the wounded and terrified crept from their hiding-places to the Mission premises. Miss Shattuck and Ida Mellinger had held the fort there together — not another European within forty miles of them. Now, Miss Shattuck stood alone, with her faithful Armenian servants. The Pastor was dead — shot, it is supposed, by the hand of a friendly Turk who wished to spare him torture.
At the Mission, church, courtyard, house were filled. The church was made into a hospital for the wounded. Miss Shattuck gave up every room in the house, keeping for herself only the couch in her own sitting-room where she slept, the girls she had sheltered lying thick upon the floor. Every girl she could lay the smallest claim to, she crowded in. But the Pastor’s children were not there — yet. Moved by her anguish on one of those awful days, the captain of the zaptiehs (police) had asked if there was anything he could do for her. "Stop these horrors," she said. He answered that he could not — it was the will of Allah. "Then find those children for me and bring them here. They are mine — they belong to the Mission," she said. Faithfully he must have sought, and after three days and nights of agonized suspense, he brought them all — unhurt.
The Turks themselves asked, wondering, "Who is this ‘Hésoos’ (Jesus) for whom these men will die?" But more wonderful than courage for death was the peace this name of "Hésoos" brought to the living. Maimed, wounded, bereaved, stripped of all things, this company of sufferers could yet praise Him — as the Bohemian children did in the flames.
Over that household of stricken ones brooded the peace of God. Those who entered felt it and grew calm. Miss Alcock has described that peace as it fell upon her fictitious hero’s heart. She followed Miss Mellinger’s account, gathered from Miss Shattuck and others. But it was so wonderful — knowing Ida’s enthusiastic nature, I asked Miss Shattuck, when she came over, if it had been overdrawn. "No," she said; " it was just as she says." And her words were always measured.
In 1897 the storm had lulled: it was a time for reparation, for straining every nerve to save the children, that one generation might grow up in the Mission schools, disciplined, yet fearless as no Armenian reared under Turkish rule could be.
Ida had Armenian friends in London then, and they came to see Miss Alcock and answer her questions. One, a lady, had to cross London. "But," she said, "there are always your beautiful policemen to help one!"
Two Armenian gentlemen came together — one, cosmopolitan, speaking excellent English and full of useful information: the other, a doctor, speaking French easily, but English with difficulty. All the tragedy of his race seemed to speak in his great dark eyes. He came again and helped Miss Alcock much. The pace at which she worked was terrific: the book of 376 pages was imagined, constructed, studied for and written in five weeks — copied in the next four; and this with constant hindrance from the need of correcting details not true to life. No rest in the afternoons till it was done! She made herself stop for one hour and play a game of patience after dinner. "I used to throw the cards about," she said, i.e. upon the board. It was a fearful strain. We all knew what she risked, and in some measure incurred. She was carried through without a breakdown, and got safely away to Falmouth, where she and Mrs. Smith spent the winter; but she had a good deal of illness there, and was never again quite what she was before that nine weeks of tremendous effort. If it was By Far Euphrates that brought her that step lower, she was content — nay, thankful, if allowed to suffer in such a cause.
Before leaving London, she was asked to join the Executive of the Friends of Armenia. Meetings were arranged for Miss Mellinger in Falmouth. Armenia brought Miss Alcock many new friends who loved and honoured her — our Chairman, Mr. Brooks; the Treasurer, Mr. Munro Ferguson; Mrs. Hickson, Hon. Secretary; Miss Cantlow, Secretary for Orphans. Lady Frederick Cavendish, our loved and honoured President, had not then taken her place: the Society was still in embryo.
After Miss Alcock had gone, we learned that Miss Mellinger and that Armenian doctor had worked together for the refugees at Ourfa, and so came to love each other. They parted — nothing else was possible then; but in the opening of 1898 she went back to Asia Minor. He met her; they were married, and a year after, a little daughter was born. They had four days of great happiness, and then, suddenly, came an agony at the heart, and the young mother passed away. She had spent herself altogether in pleading for the orphans. Her child is growing up, full of promise.
By Far Euphrates appeared, as promised. It sold very well at the time, and made a deep impression, but I regret to say it is now out of print.
As usual, very pleasant friendships were formed at Falmouth; and much sympathy was shown for Armenia. Miss Anna Maria Fox was then still living, and held her charming little court at Rose Hill, on her At Home days. But the winter ended in a sharp touch of illness for Deborah. A change to Newquay set her up. She spent several weeks in London, and came to us for her long visit in the summer, that year. My dear mother had one of her worst turns during this time. I can never forget how tenderly dear Deborah took her share in this time of trouble. She left for Ireland in August, and in November crossed back again and went to lodgings at Ulundi, West Hill Road, Bournemouth, where this winter and seven more were spent. The drawing-room occupied was spacious, sunny, and very comfortable: over it were Deborah’s bedroom, and a little room beside it which could usually be had for a visitor, or to be used as a study — Mrs. Smith’s room being on the same floor. To complete the attractions, in the rooms below and behind the drawing-room were two ladies whose friendship and ever — thoughtful sympathy put a finishing touch to the homelike feeling that grew upon the two "Partners," as they called themselves, in Ulundi. They had every comfort and no household cares; and they found an excellent physician in Dr. Frost, and above all a pastor whose preaching brought back to Deborah her old joy in hearing sermons — Canon Toyne of St. Michael’s, a church only a few minutes’ walk from the house, on level ground. The sense of routine came into life — the order of the day was mapped out, and the order of the year too.
By Far Euphrates made its mark. Out of a sheaf of letters about the book I give one sentence in a letter from Archdeacon Gore —
"Bishop Crozier (Ossory) was here the other day, and he told me that, having taken up a certain volume, he could not lay it down, but spent till four in the morning reading By Far Euphrates."
XVIII. LIFE AT BOURNEMOUTH
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Last modified: June 27, 2016