Chapter 15 | The Lawyer's Apology | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Fifteen.

For some distance the way was along good firm sand, and they got over several miles before the heat became too much for Lawrence, who was glad to sit down under the shade of a low cliff facing the sea and nibble one of the biscuits that had been pretty well soaked with sea-water, and drink from a rivulet whose presence suggested the halt.

When the heat of the day had somewhat abated the journey was continued; and, at last, when the night was beginning to fall and arrangements had to be made for sleep, the outlook was very black, for they were in a very desert place, and, though Yussuf and the professor both climbed eminences from time to time, there was not a trace of human habitation, while their supply of food was growing very short.

“Never mind,” said the professor cheerily. “Let’s have a good night’s rest. I don’t think we need set a watch here, eh, Yussuf?”

“It is always better to do so, effendi,” said the Muslim, in his quiet thoughtful manner; “there is a great ridge of rocks yonder in front, and who knows what may be on the other side.”

“But no one has seen us come here; and if they had, we have not much to lose.”

“Except the Turkish gold the two excellencies have in the belts round their waists,” said Yussuf quietly.

Mr Preston started at this, but said nothing then. Later on he found that his thoughts had been shared upon the subject, for, as they sat close up to a projecting cliff, Mr Burne leaned towards him and whispered:

“Did you tell the guide that you had a lot of money in your cash-belt?”

“No. Did you?”


“It is very strange,” said the professor.

“It is worse,” was the reply; “but, look here, for goodness’ sake don’t go making me uncomfortable by hinting that Yussuf has designs against us.”

“I am not going to,” said the professor shortly. “I agree that it is strange that he should know it, but I am going to place absolute faith in Yussuf. If I am deceived in the man so much the worse for me.”

“But he is an unspeakable Turk, Preston, and you are always reading what the Turks are.”

“I am always reading what their wretched government is. As a race I believe the Turks are a particularly grave, gentlemanly race of men.”

“I am sure,” said Lawrence, “that Yussuf is doing all he can in our interest.”

“Tchah! stuff, boy! what do you know about human nature?” cried Mr Burne angrily. “We are out here in the desert at this man’s mercy.”

“But he fought for us and saved me from drowning.”

“Of course he did, boy; he is paid to do it.”

“Then why don’t you trust him, sir?” said Lawrence, speaking out boldly.

“Because very likely he is doing all this to save us for himself. Suppose he robs us and then runs away to Tadmor in the wilderness, or some other outlandish place, what can we do? There are no policemen here.”

“Hush,” said Mr Preston; “here he is.”

Yussuf came gravely stalking down from above where he had been taking a fresh observation inland.

“I can see nothing, effendi,” he said softly. “We must sleep and see what another day brings forth.”

“Yes,” said Mr Preston; “and we are all weary. But, Yussuf.”


“How did you know that my friend, here, and I carried belts containing gold?”

The Muslim looked from one to the other sharply, and it was plain that he read the suspicion in their eyes, for his own flashed, and a stern aspect came over his countenance.

It passed away directly and his face lit up with a smile.

“Simply enough, excellencies,” he said. “Mr Burne, here, is always feeling his waist to find out whether it is quite safe, or lifting it up a little because it is heavy.”

“I? What? No such thing, sir—no such thing,” cried the old lawyer angrily.

“Well, I have seen you do so a great many times,” said Mr Preston laughing.

“And so have I, Mr Burne,” cried Lawrence, “often.”

“I deny it, gentlemen, I deny it,” he cried; and sitting up he involuntarily placed his hands just above his hips, and gave himself a hitch after the fashion of a sailor.

The professor burst into a hearty laugh; Lawrence roared; and Yussuf’s face was so comically grave that Mr Burne could not resist the infection, and laughed in turn.

“There,” he exclaimed; “I suppose, I do without knowing it, and I am so cautious, too.”

“But come,” said Mr Preston, turning to Yussuf, “you have not seen me do this, I think.”

“No, effendi, never; but when we were busy baling the water out of the boat for these dogs of Greeks to escape, your garments were wet and clung to you tightly, and the shape of the belt could be plainly seen.”

“Of course it could,” said the professor bluffly. “Why, Yussuf, I believe now in the story about the dervish who was asked if he met the camel, and told the owners all about it: the lame leg, the missing tooth, the load of rice on one side, the honey on the other, and all without seeing it.”

“Nonsense!” said Mr Burne testily, “how could he?”

“Why, my dear sir, you must have forgotten that old tale. By the light impression of one foot in the sand, by the herbage not being evenly cropped, and by the ants being busy with the fallen grain on one side, the flies, attracted by the honey, upon the other.”

“Bah!” exclaimed the old lawyer. “Eastern tales are all gammon. I don’t believe in the East at all.”

“Nor in people being cast ashore in desert places and having encounters with Greek sailors. Nor in their having a faithful experienced Mussulman guide, who fought for them and strove his very best to get them out of their troubles, eh, Burne? Well, I do, and I’m very tired. Good-night, Yussuf. You are going to sleep, I suppose?”

“No, effendi,” said the Turk. “I shall watch till the stars say it is two hours past midnight, and then I shall awaken you.”

“Humph! Wrong again,” cried Mr Burne testily. “I always am wrong. What are you laughing at, sir?”

“At you, Mr Burne. I beg your pardon, I couldn’t help it,” said Lawrence.

“Oh, I’ll forgive you, boy. I’m glad to see you can laugh like that, instead of being regularly knocked up with our troubles. I begin to believe that you never have been ill, and were shamming so as to get a holiday.”

“Do you, sir?” said Lawrence sadly.

“No, my boy. Good-night. Good-night, Yussuf,” he added, and then he raised an echo by blowing his nose.

“Good-night, excellency,” said the Turk, rather haughtily; and soon there was nothing to be heard but the sighing of the night wind and the low murmur of the rippling sea.

There was little to see, too, in the darkness, but the figures of the reclining sleepers, and that of the grave sentinel, who sat upon a big mass of stone, crouched in a heap and looking as if he were part of the rock, save when he changed his position a little to refill his pipe.

The night passed without any alarm. The professor was awakened about two and took Yussuf’s place, and soon after daybreak the others were roused, and the residue of the provisions was opened out.

“Be easier to carry when eaten,” said Mr Preston laughing.

He looked serious directly, for there was a peculiarly sombre frown upon Yussuf’s brow, which suggested that he was thinking over Mr Burne’s suspicions of the previous evening, and his rather unpleasant way.

“Look here, Burne,” the professor whispered, as they sat together on the sand eating their spare meal, “I think, if I were you, I would make a bit of an apology to Yussuf. He is really a gentleman at heart, and has been accustomed to mix a great deal with Englishmen. He is a good deal hurt by our suspicions, and it is a pity for there to be any disunion in our little camp.”

“Camp, indeed!” cried the old man testily; “pretty sort of a camp, without a tent in it. I shall be racked with rheumatism in all my old bones. I know I shall, after this wild-goose chase.”

“Let’s hope not,” said the professor; “but you will make some advances to him, will you not?”

“You mind your own affairs, sir. Don’t you teach me. My back’s horrible this morning. Can’t you wait a bit. I was going to make amends if you had left me alone.”

“That’s right,” said the professor cheerily. “I want him to have a good opinion of Englishmen.”

Lawrence watched eagerly for Mr Burne’s apology, but he did not speak till just as they were going to start, when he stepped aside behind a rock for a few minutes, and then came out again and walked up to Yussuf with something coiled up in his hand.

“Look here, Yussuf,” he said. “You’re a stronger man than I am, and used to the country. I wish you would buckle this round your waist—out of sight, of course.”

As he spoke he held out his heavy cash-belt, which was thoroughly well padded with gold coin, and then threw it over the Turk’s arm.

Yussuf looked at him intently, and a complete change came over the man’s face as he shook his head and held the belt out for Mr Burne to take again.

“No, excellency,” he said, “I understand you. It is to show me that you trust me, but you doubt me still.”

“No, I do not,” cried Mr Burne. “Nothing of the sort. You think I do, because I said ugly things yesterday. But that was my back.”

“Your excellency’s back?”

“Yes, my man; my back. It ached horribly. There, I do trust you. I should be a brute if I did not.”

“I’ll take your excellency’s word, then,” said Yussuf gravely. “I will not carry the belt.”

“Nonsense, man, do. There, it was to make you believe in me; but all the same it does tire me terribly, and it frets me, just where I feel most tender from my fall. It would relieve me a great deal, and it would be safer with you than with me. Come, there’s a good fellow; carry it for me. I beg you will.”

The Turk shook his head, and stood holding out the belt, turning his eyes directly after to Mr Preston and then upon Lawrence.

“Come,” continued Mr Burne, “you surely do not bear malice because a tired man who was in great pain said a few hasty words. The belt has really fretted and chafed me. I am ready to trust in your sincerity; will you not trust in mine?”

Yussuf’s countenance lit up, and he caught Mr Burne’s hand in his, and raised it to his lips hastily, after which he opened his loose robe and carefully buckled the money-belt within his inner garment.

“That’s the way,” cried Mr Burne cheerily; and he looked happier and more relieved himself; “and look here, Yussuf, I’m a curious suspicious sort of fellow, who has had dealings with strange people all his life. I believe in you, I do indeed, and whenever you find me saying unpleasant things, you’ll know my back’s bad, and that I don’t mean it. And now, for goodness’ sake, let’s get to some civilised place where we can have a cup of coffee and a glass of wine. Preston, old fellow, I’d give a sovereign now for a good well-cooked mutton-chop—I mean four sovereigns for four—one a-piece. I’m not a greedy man.”

Lawrence went forward to Yussuf’s side, and these two led the way, along by the purple sea, which was now flashing in the morning sun, and the delicious air made the travellers feel inspirited, and ready to forget all discomforts as they tramped on in search of a village, while, before they had gone far, Mr Burne turned his dry face to the professor and said:

“Well, did that do?”

“My dear Burne,” cried the professor, “I am just beginning to know you. It was admirable.”

“Humph!” ejaculated the old lawyer, who then blew a sounding blast upon his nose. “I am beginning to think that a neater form of apology to a man—a foreign heretic sort of a man—was never offered.”

“It could not have been better. What do you think, Lawrence?” he added as the latter halted to let his elders catch up, Yussuf going on alone.

“I don’t know what you were talking about,” he replied.

“Mr Burne’s apology. I say it was magnificent.”

“So do I,” exclaimed Lawrence. “Capital.”

“Humph! Think so? Well, I suppose it was all right,” said Mr Burne. “But I say,” he whispered, gazing after Yussuf who was striding away fifty yards ahead and leaving them behind, “do you really think that money will be all right?”

“I say, Mr Burne,” cried Lawrence laughing; “is your back beginning to ache already?”

The old lawyer stopped short, and turned upon the lad with a comical look, half mirth, half anger in his countenance.

“You impudent young dog,” he cried. “I knew you were shamming, and not ill at all. My back, indeed! Well, yes. Come along. I suppose it was beginning to ache.”