"While waiting to see a publisher for my first draft of "Korean Rose", I began work on "Betrayal Betrayal", a tragic love story set in Van in 1914-1915. The main characters are Arsen, a French Armenian Marxist Revolutionary, Jane, the daughter of a Scottish missionary and Batur, a Turkish young man who falls in love with Jane. One other major character is Baron Odabachian, a rich Armenian merchant in Van. The novel follows their lives during this period, including the relocation of Armenians. I offer this first chapter to readers to gauge their response"
Harry Blackley, Australia
We, the editors of this site, would very much appreciate any emailed suggestions from members/readers of this group directly to , which then be forwarded to the Author
CHAPTER ONEOn a cold day in late February 1914, Arsen Hovanian arrived in Geneva by train from Paris. His stomach protested that he had not eaten breakfast at home that morning or left the train to buy some French bread and cheese on offer at the various stops. He was too excited at what lay ahead to think about food. Despite some misgivings by his mother, Soffi, he was on his way to join the Hunchak Revolutionary Party at its headquarters in the capital of Switzerland. . .
The Hovanians lived on the third floor of an old brown stone building on the Rue Ardenne in Paris. The apartment was spacious and beautifully furnished. His father, Bedros, was an influential banker who worked hard and usually arrived home for a late dinner, eaten alone. The over-affectionate Soffi spoiled her only child. She never ceased to talk about her beloved home in Tiflis where the Hovanian factory, manufacturing all kinds of cotton goods, ensured her a position of importance in Tiflis society. As a young child, Arsen loved to hear her stories about the ‘old country’ and from an early age he had visions of a grand life style where guests came to dinner and evenings were filled with music, laughter and animated conversation. Bedros had married the seventeen year-old Soffi when he was forty-three, two years after the death of his first wife, Marta. The family had fled Tiblisi when Arsen was four years old but he could vaguely remember a house full of laughter and noise, a garden and a dog that came when he called and it licked his face.
“You know, Arsen, there was time when Armenia stretched from the Russian border to the Mediterranean. Of course, it was a long time ago, but we have never forgotten that time.”
“Then how did it all come to an end, Soffi?” From the time he could talk she had insisted that he call her Soffi.
She sighed and shrugged. “Empires come and go. We Armenians have always been a migrant people, always looking for new opportunities in other lands, never satisfied. Gradually we became less and less and the Muslims and Kurds became more and more. The old Armenia just melted away like the snow when spring comes.”
“But didn’t the King do anything to stop the people leaving?” He sat on a cushion at the feet of his seated mother.
Soffi smiled and Arsen looked up at his beautiful mother, happy that she was amused. She stroked his soft cheek. “There was no king, not like in England or the Emperor here in France.”
“But who looked after the people?” He struggled to understand.
Soffi laughed and pulled him into an embrace. “It was a vast land, scattered towns and all kinds of different people, all owing allegiance to various nobles or warlords.”
“What’s allegiance?” He asked in his high-pitched voice.
“Let me see,” she hesitated, “if you are weak and defenseless, you need someone more powerful to look after you, just like Papa looks after us. Well, a long time ago, people in a town or a valley would look to a powerful noble who had an army to protect them from their enemies. There were many bandits who would come and steal their cattle or take their children. So the people would give their allegiance or obedience to the powerful noble. You understand? They obeyed the master.”
“But who was the king of all these nobles?” Arsen persisted.
“There was no one king, many nobles called themselves king but as the years passed, they could never agree to have just one king.”
Arsen lost interest in the story. “Tell me about when you were a girl and you first met Papa.”
“Come, let’s lie down on the sofa and I’ll tell you how I met your father in the summer of ninety-eight.”
He snuggled into the ample bosom of his mother. Soffi lifted up his head and kissed him softly on the lips
He loved this story. “It was at the home of Baron Ishkan, right”
Soffi smiled and held him close. “Close your eyes and I’ll begin at the very beginning.”
Soffi’s hand shook as she placed the dish of pasterma on the table already covered with lavash and a variety of vegetables. Bedros poured himself a large glass of raki and a smaller one for his wife and Arsen. “Shall I propose a toast?”
Soffi shook her head vigorously and her eyes filled with tears. “Please Papa, this is no time for toasts. Arsen is going far away to fight for what?” Her voice broke and soft sobs forced themselves out through her mouth.
Bedros waited until she had stopped. “For nothing. But young men like Arsen think that this is some adventure like in a storybook. Stop crying. In a month or two he’ll be back home.” He poured some water into his glass, drank a little and held it in his mouth, savoring the rich aniseed flavor. “Let him get this madness out of his system. Who ever heard of Marx and his crazy ideas?”
“It’s not crazy, Papa. The world is changing. People want a better share in the wealth they produce by their labor. To share the wealth of a country equally.” Arsen said with assurance.
“Rubbish.” Bedros shook his head dismissively. “It’s not possible. There will always be some who are rich and some who are poor. Why should I give my wealth to some lazy servant or peasant?”
Soffi reached out and patted him on the arm. “Let’s not argue tonight. Please!”
“Sorry Soffi!” All of us at university, well, I won’t say more. I have to go! I want to be part of a new world order.” Arsen held out both clenched fists.
“Bah,” Bedros spat out the words, “this Communist Manifesto is a godless philosophy. Besides, look how many people flock to the cities now. They want to work in factories. Life is better than scraping a living from the land.”
“I agree, but the wealth created must be shared by all.” Arsen persevered.
Bedros shook his head. “It’s against human nature. Such things are against the teachings of the Church. So! No more on this godless subject. Go if you must.”
Soffi sniffed and reached out to take hold of Arsen’s hand. “You’ll come straight home to me if it looks hopeless? Promise?”
Arsen kissed her hand. “Soffi, everything is going as we thought it would. The Tsar will be overthrown in Russia and the people will win their freedom. Our Russian comrades will see that Armenians have the right to rule our ancient homeland under a new system of government.”
“Bah!” Bedros snorted. “Go and find out about your comrades as you call them. I tell you, it’s impossible. How can you have a homeland where the Muslims are the majority? Will you kill them all?”
“There’s more than enough land. The Muslims can go west or to Persia. Then Armenians from all over the world will flock to help re-build our rightful country. Isn’t that right, Soffi?”
She pulled a handkerchief from inside the sleeve of her dress. She blew her nose and looked apologetically at her son. “It was all a long time ago. Like a fairy story. You can have a good life here. Why do you have to join this revolution?”
He patted her hand. “Soffi, one day you will be proud that I helped restore Armenia to its former glory. You’d like to live again where you were so happy, no?”
She put a hand wearily to her forehead. “I don’t understand anymore. Please? See these people in Geneva. Your father can give them money. But come back to Paris. No need to go to Anatolia. You’re just a young man. It’s a harsh country full of robbers, bandits and Muslims.”
“The spicy beef is good, Soffi. Let’s just enjoy your cooking. I won’t do anything foolish, I promise.” He gave her a loving glance.
Two days later he booked into the Gasthous Bavaria on the shore of the frozen lake and as instructed, he waited to be contacted by the party leader in Geneva, Boghos Garian, a Russian Armenian from Moscow. Arsen was happy to stay inside the hotel that night. He enjoyed a hearty meal of veal schnitzel, fried potatoes and cabbage. He ran the large bath full of hot water and lathered his body with the rose scented soap. Breathing in the rich perfume he felt aroused as memories came flooding back. It began when he was barely fourteen years old. Bedros had gone to Bolis to organize the transfer of money to France. Rich merchants always feared a repeat of 1896 when the revolt in the East had led to the death and emigration of many Armenians. Their gold was safe in France and plans were always ready to flee on a ship if trouble began again.
Arsen had a fever. Soffi tucked him into her bed in the main bedroom and piled logs on the large open fire.
She sat by the blazing fire reading a book. She removed her peignoir and undid the top buttons of her cotton nightdress. Arsen stirred and muttered in his half sleep.
“What is it Arsen?” She put a hand on his fevered brow.
“I was sleeping but now I’m too hot.” He whispered. He opened his eyes and saw the flickering shadows on the walls and ceiling like dancing demons and shuddered.
The bath water was still hot but he shivered at the memory.
“I put too much wood on the fire.” Soffi patted her hot cheeks. “Even I am hot. I had to take off my peignoir. I’ll fetch some rose water and a sponge. That will cool you down.”
“Is it the rose water made with the oil from Bitlis?”
“Yes, you remember. We had the finest roses. The poor people used the manure to make bricks to burn in the tonir but our Assyrian gardener used the manure to produce the finest roses ”
She went quickly to the dressing table with her creams, perfumes and a large jug of water standing in a hand-painted bowl.
She poured some water into the bowl and added a few drops of rose oil. “Slip off your night shirt and I’ll bathe you with this cool water.”
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Soffi pulled back the covers and began to sponge his chest and shoulders. She moved down to his stomach and upper limbs. Eyes closed, Arsen moaned softly and he became erect as she bathed his genitals. Soffi looked with surprise at how big he was. She bent further over and her left breast fell out of her nightdress. Arsen opened his eyes, raised his head and kissed her ripe strawberry nipple. Soffi groaned with pleasure and lay down beside him.
She pulled him in close and whispered, “You’re my lovely man, you’re a man now.” She kissed him on the lips and as he responded, she opened her lips and his tongue slipped inside.
He began to kiss her with passion and she guided his hand under her nightdress to her fuzzy hair. His fingers stroked her mound, and then slipped inside the moist crack. Soffi’s head went back and she cried out with soft words of ecstasy. Arsen brought his hands up inside the nightdress and caressed her breasts. She pulled him closer and guided his hardness inside her warm slippery opening. She rocked gently back and forth, then lay on her back and gently brought him on top. She arched her back and her buttocks rose and fell as Arsen slowly moved in and out. He felt a warm glow suffuse his whole being. He muttered her name over and over.
Soffi squeezed her legs together as he spent himself and she gasped as a feeling of utter joy flooded her whole body. She moved Arsen on to his side and pulled the cover over their bodies before guiding him back inside. He sighed deeply, his eyes closed, and breathing in the smell of roses, he fell asleep. She lay quietly until he became soft before she pulled back. She lovingly rested his head on her breast and lay with a beating heart, inhaling the scent of rose and love. The fire slowly died.
The bath water was cold and Arsen shivered. He quickly dried himself and crept under the feather quilt, placing the rose scented soap under the pillow. He fell asleep dreaming of the nights that followed until his father returned from his business in far off Constantinople.
Bedros shrugged each time he noticed the loving touches that Arsen constantly gave his mother. If only we had another child, he thought. Too late now. I’m too old.
Each time he traveled to Bolis or London, Soffi allowed Arsen to share her bed and her body. She felt little guilt, as her husband was too busy or too tired after his long day at the office to notice that she was still a young woman with needs. When his father was in Paris, Arsen went to bed early and Soffi enjoyed his caresses but no more until Bedros arrived home for his late meal.
When Arsen was sixteen, Bedros decided that he needed to escape his mother’s suffocating love and he enrolled him in a school with a reputation for harsh discipline that turned soft young boys into strong, active young men. The Principal of Lycee St Germaine was a German, Kurt Hahn, who believed that a healthy body housed a healthy mind.
By the time Arsen had completed his schooling, he was physically strong and well educated. After a further three years at the University of Paris, he graduated with a degree in politics, arts and language. He believed in the principles of the French Republic and the teachings of Karl Marx. As a student he enjoyed visiting Montmartre with his fellow students where they took pleasure in the local girls. He liked to ride them hard, to take them again and again even when they were satisfied. He liked the feeling of power. He still loved Soffi but a distance had come between them. He liked to kiss and caress her as she stood at the kitchen bench preparing dinner. Their lovemaking was confined to the odd occasion when Bedros was out of town and Arsen had been out carousing with his friends and returned home unsatisfied. She knew that he no longer needed her to satisfy his sexual urges. Now over forty years of age, Soffi was resigned to the loss of her lover.
Arsen woke early and after a light breakfast of coffee and croissants, the hotel clerk handed him a note. It told him to present himself at 10 am at the Hotel Plaza Manotel opposite the main railway station. He hurried across the windswept plaza that fronted the hotel, shielding his eyes from the flurries of snow. As he entered the hotel lobby exactly on time, a heavily built, bearded, young man approached him.
“Yes,” he answered nervously, “I’m Arsen Hovanian.”
“Jivan Dadryian.” He shook Arsen’s hand with a strong grip. “We have a room upstairs. You will meet our leader, Boghos.”
Arsen followed silently as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. Inside Room 22, three men stood up as he entered the room. In the overheated room, they looked tense.
“It’s him. I recognized him from the photograph he sent.” Jivan nodded to a short man with a shaven head and a large moustache.
The man smiled, showing badly stained teeth. “I am Boghos Garian and this is Levon Eghian and this is Norvan Dekeyan.” He introduced the other two men who bowed slightly towards the apprehensive Arsen.
“I’m pleased to meet all of you. I am at your service and the cause.” His chest expanded and he stood to attention.
Boghos grinned at this show of bravado. “Sit down and relax. We are not in the army yet. You had a good journey?”
“Oh yes! The train was poorly heated but I have warm clothing.”
“You’ll need them. And funds? You have sufficient funds? Boghos looked up at the still standing Arsen. “Sit down.”
Arsen sat down on a sofa opposite the leader. “Of course. My father has provided me with money to cover my expenses here and wherever I serve. I also have a cousin of my mother in Istanbul who will help me if I need more.”
Boghos shook his head in dismay. “Constantinople!”
Arsen looked puzzled. “Pardon?”
“We always refer to it as Constantinople or Bolis or if necessary as Stamboul.”
“But,” Arsen stuttered, “my cousin…”
Boghos interrupted. “Always refer to the City of Dreams as Constantinople. It was and is a Greek city. Understood? The Turks only occupy it for the moment but one day it will be Greek again. And Christian.”
Jivan thumped the coffee table with a fist. “Forget Constantinople. Our mission is to create a Marxist Armenian nation in our ancient homeland, under the shadow of Mount Ararat.”
Arsen nodded, eager to please. “That’s why I have come to fight. A homeland! But are you confident that you can persuade all of our people to fight for such a nation? My father…”
Boghos closed his eyes and grunted. “Young friend, we will raise the flag of victory for an Armenian nation based on the nationalist aspirations of all Armenians. That is how we will win our ancient homeland just as the Greeks and the Serbs have done. Once we have achieved this we will bring about a true, modern state based on the teachings of Karl Marx. Jivan?”
Jivan leaned forward. “As we know, Marx proposed that a new world will come about in industrial nations as the workers revolt against their capitalist masters. In Russia, where I have just come from, and in the Ottoman Empire, these conditions do not exist. They are peasant, agricultural, pre-industrial societies. But Lenin and Trotsky both believe that the peasants are just as oppressed as the factory workers and we can avoid the future misery of such people under capitalism by acting now.”
Boghos waved him to stop. “We know all that. Besides, there is a rising middle-class in Russia with the introduction of industrialization. Get to the point, what did Lenin say about our situation?” He emphasized the word our.
Jivan pursed his lips. “He agreed that it was unlikely that the peasants would be able to organize a revolution by themselves. It requires, he said, a dedicated, small political party to lead them. Once the revolution succeeds, the party will control the government and create a classless society. But he said that we must act like an army, disciplined and ruthless when needed.”
“What about the rich Armenian merchants and even more so, the Church?” Norvan looked at Boghos with raised eyebrows.
“You agreed with our aims when you joined us.” Boghos sneered. “We will use propaganda, provocation and terror. The propaganda will explain to the people the reasons and the time for revolt against the Ottomans. Provocation and terror are necessary to keep up the people’s courage.
We will create hatred of the aristocratic class. The Church we’ll use until we no longer need it. At the moment, they are the organization that has the greatest influence over all Armenians.”
All the men nodded agreement as he continued. “We are all agreed that the best time to bring about a successful revolution will be when the Ottomans are at war. Right?”
“War? With the Turks?” Arsen screwed up his face. “Can we count on the full support of Russia when the time comes? Can we organize enough Armenians to fight? History shows that we always seem to end up with enormous losses when we try to fight the Turks on our own. And what about the Kurds?”
Boghos smiled, baring his ugly teeth like a satisfied cat. “This time it will be different. What I propose is that we join forces with the Dashnak Party and work with them, even if we’re not in total agreement with their aims. The Kurds? They are bandits, led by chiefs who are only interested in their little tribal territory.” He laughed sardonically. “We’ll use them too. They can massacre as many Turks as they like. Then, when the time comes, we get rid of them.”
Levon shook his head. “They loot and destroy Armenian villages now. They’re worse than the Turks. And they’re all Muslims. But I agree. We join forces with the Dashnaks.”
Jivan nodded vigorously. “They have the most support in the East, that’s true.”
“Not only that, but they have our greatest general, Andrikin.”
Arsen laughed, eager to contribute. “Of course! He led an Armenian army on the side of the Bulgarians. And he won. He’ll easily attract a new army in the Caucasus.”
Levon quickly joined in. “He’s a national hero. They say he’s invincible. Money will pour in if he leads the fight against the Turks. Our group can benefit from this.”
“We would need Russia to begin a war against the Ottomans. Is that likely soon?” Arsen looked at each man in turn.
“Yes!” Jivan answered in a raised voice. “The Soviets have spies in the Imperial Palace. The Czar is losing popularity by the day. Our informants say that he needs a new war to rally the people behind him. Lenin is confident that the instability in Russia and Europe will inevitably lead to the outbreak of war. Every nation is building warships, armaments and armies.”
Boghos held up a hand to stop Jivan. “Then it’s agreed? We make our way to the East and report to the Dashnak Revolutionary Army for posting to towns where we have substantial numbers of Armenians. Places like Erzerum, Trezibond, Bafra and especially Van.”
“What can we do in the meantime? In case war doesn’t come soon?” Arsen shrugged impatiently.
“First, we enlist the support of the Christian missionaries. When we begin our work and when the killing begins, there will be reprisals from the Turks.”
“And the Kurds, they hate us too.” Levon shouted.
“So, innocent people will be slaughtered again. Like in ninety six.” A melancholy Arsen screwed up his face.
Boghos waved his concerns aside with a wave of his hand. “Yes, but it’s a small price to pay for our liberty. These missionaries have great influence in their home countries like America and England. We make friends with these missionaries and encourage them to send back stories of the atrocities against us. Even if there are no massacres, we exaggerate. Remember? Propaganda!”
“Will we all be together?” Arsen sounded worried.
“No!” Boghos shouted at his young comrade. “We’ll be joined in a few days by others from America and England. We’ll be assigned to various places. It all depends.” He shrugged.
“I have passage booked for fifteen on a ship leaving Marseille at the end of the month.” Levon looked pleased to have the attention of his comrades.
“Good!” Boghos raised a clenched fist. “We’ll have the last of winter and all of Spring to prepare for an all out assault in summer and autumn before the weather turns cold again and makes it too difficult to move around.”
Jivan stood up and stretched his arms up high. “I’m hungry. Talking always makes me hungry. And I want a beer. They make good beer here.”
“Good idea. We’ll drink to the success of the revolution. Down with the Turks! We’ll make them pay this time. Up the revolution!” Boghos put his arm around Levon and all together they cried out ‘Armenia forever’. . .
Chapter TWOThe steamship Ilford moved slowly away from the dockside at the port of Glasgow and began its journey down the River Clyde. Pastor Eric Liston, his wife Helen and daughter Jane huddled close together on the portside of the ship. They watched as the largest city in Scotland, under a thick pall of smoke from thousands of chimneys, fade from view. The night was damp and depressing as the five thousand tonne ship of the Eastern Orient Line made its way past the silent shipyards, past Greenock and out into the Firth of Clyde. It was almost dark by five in the afternoon but they stood together, watching the lights from the island of Arran, reluctant to go below.
Jane shivered as an icy north wind blew in from the North Atlantic Ocean and funneled down the north channel of the Scottish Sea.
“It’s our home, Father, but I’m not sorry to be leaving.”
“Aye,” he nodded, “it’s been a blessing and a curse this desperate rush to industrialize our fair land. There are too many people crowded into a few cities. Still, it’s the only place for them to find work.”
Helen pulled a heavy woolen balaclava down over her ears. “Ach, it’s no way for people to live. The tenements are no fit place to bring up a family. Fifteen long years we’ve been there.”
Pastor Liston put his arm around his wife. “Nae doubt we’ll see places much worse. But at least the air will be clean.”
“Aye, like the Scotland that will always live in my memory.” Helen agreed. “The Bonnie Scotland where we had our honeymoon. Remember, Father? Up north at Oban and then Inverness and Loch Lomond. That’s the picture of Scotland I’ll carry in my heart.”
“Well, let’s get below and unpack. You two go first. There’s not much room in that wee cabin. I’ll just have a final pipe and then I’ll be down to get out what I need for the journey. I’ll be ready for a good meal. This cold air makes a man hungry.”
Helen laughed. “I’ve never known a man that likes his food more than you and yet ye’re as skinny as a stick.”
Eric found a small alcove where he was able to light his pipe. He sucked in deeply the fragrant smoke and thought about what lay ahead. He was the son of missionaries who had spent much of their lives in far off China. They had sent him back to Scotland to complete his education at St Andrews University in the Kingdom of Fife on the windblown East coast of Scotland. His studies had led to a Bachelor of Science, a degree that gave him some understanding of medicine and hygiene. It was in St Andrews that he met his beloved wife who was a member of the local congregation. Helen had just turned sixteen when they were married and a year later they were blessed with a daughter. They baptized her Jane Victoria as she appeared not to be destined to be a beautiful woman like her mother and also to preserve the name of the ailing Queen.
His parents had been home only once and Eric was keen to join them and his younger sister in their work in China but the Reformed Baptist community decided that Helen was still too young and that Eric should prove his merit by caring for the souls of the unfortunate people crowded into the slums of the Gorbals district in Glasgow. This was home, if that word can be used for the filthy, three-storey tenement buildings where two or three dozen people were forced to share one toilet in the stairwell. Behind the tenements was a large green area of grass and weeds with a large pole connected by a rope on a pulley to the kitchen window of each apartment. This was where clothes were hung out to dry as best they could before being hung on a clothesline suspended from the kitchen ceiling. The greenie as it was called smelled of dog and cat pee and more often than not the pee of a drunken man arriving home from a few hours at the local pub. The dreadful conditions led to much drinking by the men with gangs and violence against women a common occurrence thanks to the demon drink, whisky.
Eric, Helen and the baby settled into a ground-floor apartment that consisted of two rooms. The front room, with an open coal fire, served as kitchen, dining area and a bed in a recess in one wall. The second room was a bedroom for however many children in a family. They lived an austere life with few pleasures apart from walks in the park and reading. Jane proved to be an intelligent child who grew up with a love of books and was adept at learning new languages.
She was a solitary child, her Baptist background and studious nature set her apart from the other children at school. The local public library was only a short walk from home and she spent much time there after school. It was heated and on cold winter days it was a warm refuge as well as a place of learning. Her schoolteacher encouraged her to read about the work that women were doing to change attitudes in society. Jane loved her father and knew that he disapproved of women trying to enter politics. How she wished she could tell him about Emily Hobhouse. This brave woman had exposed the terrible acts in South Africa where the British had fought the Boers who wished to set up an independent State. A horrified Jane learned that the British had held over a hundred thousand women and children in concentration camps. A third had died of starvation, typhus and exposure to the sun and heat. That included 26,251 women and children, of whom 22,074 were children under the age of 16. The picture of Lizzie van Zyl, a skeletal young girl allowed to die in hospital from starvation, haunted Jane’s dreams for nights. Reading about this terrible tragedy, Jane silently prayed as the gaslight flickered in the silent library.
The word of Jesus had penetrated into some of the Irish controlled parts of the Gorbals through the Catholic Church but it had little effect on the conduct of these men who fought street battles with those of the Protestant faith. Since it was mainly women who filled the churches on Sunday, it was the duty of missionaries to preach to the men lounging on street corners and offer them the comfort of the Lord.
On occasions the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible was not sufficient protection from drunken louts and Eric, who was just above average height for a Scotsman, was forced to defend himself against physical attack. Much to his shame he gained a reputation as the Fighting Preacher and suffered much ribald, humorous comments when he addressed groups of unshaven, unemployed shipyard workers. Violence was part of every day life in Glasgow with pitched battles between Catholics and Protestants, especially on days when the Irish Celtic football team played the Loyalist Rangers team. Eric survived his time in this mean city and was finally accepted to serve as a missionary in a place he knew nothing of. It was a country to the west of China known as the Eastern Provinces of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. And so it was that he stood on the deck of the good ship Ilford bound for the famous Constantinople that the Muslims call Istanbul.
He puffed away on his pipe deep in thought. It was a good time to be given this posting. In the past year Jane had come under the influence of a schoolteacher. The woman was a fervent member of the suffragette movement demanding the vote for women. Eric believed that women were wonderful creatures provided by God but not suited to be the equal of men. They had not the disposition and wisdom to take part in political matters.
Why, just last year a well-educated suffragette had thrown herself under the King's racehorse at the Epsom Derby. The poor, deluded woman was killed. That was a sure sign that women were not capable of exercising good judgment in matters best left to their protectors, men.
Sighing, he knocked the ash from the pipe bowl and went below.
He knocked on the cabin door and Helen called out. “Eric? You can come in. We’re all decent.”
The cabin was small with upper and lower bunks on either side with a chest of drawers in between. A large bowl and jug of water sat on top of the chest of drawers
“Jane is sleeping here,” Helen pointed to an upper bunk, “we’ll have these lower ones and you can put our cases up on that spare one.”
“There’s not room to swing a cat in here. Have you found the toilet and washroom?” He grimaced at his barely five-foot wife.
“Aye, there’s one for men and one for us ladies. We have a sink and a bath. I hope we don’t have too many women sharing.”
Jane climbed up to her bunk to clear some room in the small space. “I’ll make sure that I get up early before anyone else gets to the bathroom.”
Eric looked fondly at his young daughter. She’s at that age where she’s becoming aware of her womanhood. Aye, he thought, she’s blossoming into a beautiful young girl. She’s as tall as me and with her looks and flaming red hair, I’ve seen how she attracts the attention of young men.
“At least it’s not as far as sailing to Shanghai in China. In a month we’ll be back on dry land. If it’s like this before we reach the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll need a few days to get used to the rolling of the ship. You feel all right, Jane? You don’t feel seasick?”
“Father!” She pouted and shook her head. “I’ve been on the Clyde Ferry lots of times and in rough weather. I never get seasick. You know that.”
“Aye, well, wait till we cross the Bay of Biscay. Now, off you go while I get changed for dinner.”
The crossing was mercifully calm and the sixty passengers stood in warm sunshine as the ship reached Gibraltar.
“Thank goodness for some decent food and fresh fruit.” Helen exclaimed as they ate at a small restaurant near the harbor.
“Aye, and with luck we’ll soon be in Malta where we can expect the same. Potatoes, minced beef and cabbage are not good for my digestion.” Eric patted his flat stomach.
A problem with the ship’s engine caused a four-day stop in the harbor at Valetta. They made the most of this misfortune to sample the local cuisine and to visit the many Catholic churches on the island.
“It’s all very impressive,” Eric paused outside the cathedral,” but I pray that these good people who follow the Pope with such obedience would turn to the Holy Bible for guidance in following the teachings of Jesus Christ and forget all this show of grandeur.”
“Father!” Jane shook her head and laughed. “Surely there are many paths to God.”
“Aye, but not by building palaces to the glory of God. It’s what’s in the heart that’s important.”
“Well, I must say that I’m impressed.” Helen puffed as she climbed the wide steps up to the cathedral entrance. “I really must cut down on those mashed tatties. I swear I’ve put on half a stone.”
The ship stopped two days at a port called Piraeus, near the ancient city of Athens. A horse-drawn cart took them into the city.
“It looks just like it says in all those stories of ancient Greece.” Jane twirled round and round to take in a panoramic view of the city. Several dark-skinned, swarthy men with big bristling moustaches sat outside a café and watched with raised eyebrows. “But father, you said that this land was ruled by the Muslims for over four hundred years. Yet there is not one mosque?”
Eric shrugged and turned his face away. “It hardly looks prosperous. It looks like it hasn’t changed in a hundred years.”
Helen nodded. “Thank goodness. These peasants look happy. They haven’t been made miserable by the industrial revolution that has ended the simple way of life in Scotland.”
Two days later the ship’s engine began to falter and Eric paced up and down the deck impatiently as they slowly steamed up the Aegean Sea. Finally, the Ilford entered the Marmara Sea and as the sky lightened, all the passengers stood on deck and gazed in wonder at the formidable skyline of Constantinople. Jane shivered in the cold morning breeze. “Look, father, that’s a sight I’ll never forget. This must be a wondrous land.”
“It once was, but it’s been declining over the last hundred or so years. And where we will be going won’t be like this. Let’s enjoy what little time we have here and prepare for our journey east.”
Several brothers and sisters in the Reformed Baptist Church, led by Pastor Robb, greeted them warmly as they stepped ashore in a strange land on March 27 in the year of our Lord 1914. After prayers and a hearty meal they walked to various parts of the old city to accustom their legs to terra firma, after the rolling of the ship. It was strange to sleep in a bed with no rocking motion.
The following day they visited the Armenian quarter of the sprawling city. Eric was surprised at the prosperity of the area with its impressive houses and well-stocked shops. “This is better than I expected,” he said to Pastor Robb.
“Yes, it’s quite remarkable. The Armenians are very good business people, unlike the Turks. But don’t expect to find this kind of luxury in the East. Although, even there, the Armenians do control much of the trade, banking and money-lending. They are an intelligent hard-working people.”
Eric nodded approval. “I pray that they are not averse to the enlightened teachings of the Baptist Church. We can lead them to a better Christian manhood.”
Pastor Robb laughed sympathetically. “The Armenian Church is their strength. It is the glue that has kept them together over the centuries. Don’t get your hopes up too high. Conversion is not easy. But you know all that from your experience in China.”
“It’s very colorful, all the men wearing those red hats. What are they called? They must have a name?” Jane asked.
“It’s called the fez. You’ll see them everywhere in this land.”
“Just like men! All wearing the same colored hat. At least a few women have different colored headscarves.”
“Now, let’s visit some less prosperous parts of the city.” Pastor Robb smiled at the brash young girl.
The Listons were appalled at the conditions endured by the Muslim Turks. She looked sorrowfully at Pastor Robb. “Why so many people crowded into these dreadful places?”
“What you see here are unfortunate survivors of the massacres and forced deportations from former Ottoman lands in the Balkans. They have left behind their farms and shops and only have what they could carry on carts or on their backs. At least, here, they are safe.”
“But this is a great Empire still is it not? Can’t they house these people better?”
Pastor Robb shook his head. “The Ottomans have been involved in so many wars that they are bankrupt. There’s no money in the Treasury to assist these refugees. Many just die of starvation or diseases that are rampant in the squalid conditions here in Constantinople. Many are being encouraged to move east.”
“Is it better there?”
Pastor Robb shrugged. “No, but at least they can rent a plot of land or work for a landowner.”
“I think it’s awful to see so many women dressed like sacks of potatoes. It’s one thing to be modestly dressed but it must be terrible being covered up like that.” Jane shook her head in disgust.
Pastor Robb shrugged. “It’s part of their religion. Women in Muslim lands are respected by their men folk but they are not allowed out in the street where other men may look at them. So they cover up everything except the face, or even just the eyes.”
Jane breathed out and then sniffed in deeply. “One day all that will change. Just like in our country.”
Her father gave her a disapproving stare. Helen hid a barely noticeable smile.
Eric cast a last gloomy look at the shantytown filled with ragged children and gaunt women and children. “I hope life will be better for them where we are going.”
Pastor Robb patted him on the back. “Be prepared to see worse than this. Outside of the main cities this land called Anatolia has changed little in hundreds of years.”
“Come, father,” Jane pulled Eric by the hand, “let’s go and see some of the famous places that I read about. We leave the day after tomorrow.”
Vasil Odabachian pushed back the heavy cover and slipped quietly out of bed, not wishing to disturb his still sleeping wife, Anna, who was snoring and dreaming. He could always tell when she was dreaming. He carried his clothes and slippers into the next room where his daughter Katarine was barely visible under a heavy blanket as she slept on a mattress and rugs on the wooden floor. He decided to go downstairs to the tantun where he hoped there might be still some heat in the tonir. He stubbed his toe on the last step and cursed. No good cursing God he decided, God has cursed me and he has more power than me. His second son, Esayi, was seated at the kitchen table eating some cold tarragon omelette left over from the previous evening meal.
‘What are you doing eating this old Djilbur? Why don’t you call mairig to make you something to eat? Or Katarine? It’s her job to cook for you.”
“I’m not fussed. I eat what I can, when I can. I’ve brought in some corn, cheese and vegetables from the farm. They’re in the shed. Pirum will store them properly. You’re up early. Have you some business to attend to?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I never sleep well now. There are strange things happening in Van.”
“What things? I don’t get into town much. I don’t like the town. I prefer the farm. Nothing changes on the land. The sun comes up and after a day’s work we eat and go to bed.” Esayi shrugged as he stuffed some bread and yoghurt into his mouth.
“You live well and have no worries. You run my farm like a good son but you don’t understand anything else. It’s a cruel world. I worry and you sleep well at night. Do you want some raki? I need some.”
“You know I don’t like it.
Vasil went to the pantry and brought out a bottle of raki. He put two glasses on the table and poured a full one for himself and a small amount into a glass for his son. He swallowed half a glass, wiped his brow and looked forlornly at Esayi.
“It’s all these new people coming into Van. There’re Russians and French young men. They speak Armenian but it’s not like Armenian. What do they want here?
“Are they here for business?” Esayi took a tiny sip of the fiery liquid.
“Business? Business? How can they be here for business? There’s no room for more merchants in Van. Don’t we have enough problems making a living? Baron Yeretz is the biggest, most powerful man in Van. He’s already been mayor for ten years. Baron Danelian and Baron Saroyan are big too. Even I do well but it’s always a struggle. Only last month a whole shipment from Bolis was stolen on route by those thieving Kurds.” Baron Odabachian swallowed the remainder of the raki and brushed his moustache with the back of his hand.
Katarine came into the tatun rubbing her sleepy eyes. She was wearing a cotton nightdress and an open woolen dressing gown. Baron Odabachian noted that she was developing into a beautiful young woman. I haven’t been paying attention, he thought. Now he felt guilty that he’d looked at her with a man’s eyes. I suppose I’ll have to think about finding a husband for her soon. Anna will say no. She’ll say she needs her to help with the house.
“Call mairig. It’s time she was out of bed. Light the tonir and get me something to eat.” He patted his ample stomach. He picked up his bright red fez and put it on Katarine’s head. “Go quickly. It’s cold and I need some food. I have to go out soon.”
Esayi finished the last drop of raki. “Are you going to the market, to the shop?”
“Later, later. First I must see Baron Danelian. He’ll know what all this is about. Then I’ll go to the shop.”
Anna came into the room yawning and stretching. Katarine followed and began to build the fire. The smoke drifted up through the hole in the roof and she waved a small piece of old carpet to force the smoke up the hole as it billowed out into the room.
Baron Odabachian coughed and looked at his still beautiful wife. Not yet forty, she was almost eighteen years younger than her husband. She was his second wife, his first having died of a fever when their first child Goriun was only ten years old and Esayi six. Ah, Goriun, a good son and educated too. He’s doing well in Bolis. He should be here to take over the shop when I’m gone but he likes it in the big city. Van is too small and dull for him now.
Anna pulled out some pots. “What would you like?”
“Nothing too much. I have to go out soon. He plucked the fez from Katarine’s head and placed it firmly on his head. “Hurry up, woman, I have a busy day ahead.”
Anna smiled a secret little smile and went to the pantry. On the table she put boiled eggs, bread, cold meat and some cheeses. “Here, begin to eat while I make something hot. Katarine, make some tea. Your father needs tea, not raki if he has to attend to business.” She patted Katarine on the head. “You’re such a good help to me. I couldn’t manage without you.”
Baron Odabachian looked slyly at his wife. She’s beginning to work her thoughts into my mind. He piled his plate with food and poured another glass of raki. I decide what happens in this house. He turned to Esayi. “Get Pirum to saddle up my donkey. Everyone will be up an about by now. You must get back to the farm too. Make sure the workers are busy doing the milking and looking after the fields. It’s cold, I’m going to change.”
Baron Odabachian, dressed in warm clothes, stepped out into the courtyard where his white donkey was already saddled. His Assyrian servant held the donkey’s head while the Baron stepped onto a large stone and mounted the animal. The bells around its neck tinkled as the donkey shook his head at this heavy load disturbing its comfort.
Esayi’s dull grey donkey was already waiting patiently and he mounted with a hand on its neck and a quick slide into the saddle. “I’ll see you in a week unless you decide to come out to the farm.” He called out to his father.
The Baron waved his hand impatiently. “I don’t know. I’m too busy and there’re so many things to worry about here in town. Say hello to Luso and my grandson.” He leaned down and touched Katarine on the cheek. “It’s early yet but I’ll have to worry about finding an appropriate suitor for you.”
Katarine blushed and patted the donkey. It pricked up its long ears and trotted off, forcing the Baron to pull on the reins as he called out a farewell to his wife standing in the doorway.
She waved and then turned to the servant Pirum. “I’ll come and see what Esayi’s brought in today. There’s so much to do. Hurry man, I haven’t all day.”
Harry Blackley, Australia