Chapter 17 | Preparations for a Journey | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Seventeen.

Lawrence Grange left England as weak and helpless in mind as he was in body; but, in the brief period that had elapsed, his mind had rapidly recovered its balance, and, leaving his body behind, had strengthened so that, eager and bright, and urged on by the glorious novelty of the things he saw, his spirit was now always setting his body tasks that it could not perform.

“I’m sure I am getting worse,” he said one morning, after returning from having a delicious bathe down by the ruins of the old port. “I never felt so weak as this in England.”

The professor burst into a hearty fit of laughter, in which the old lawyer joined, and then took snuff and snapped his fingers till both his companions sneezed.

“I say,” cried Lawrence, “isn’t it cruel of you two, laughing at a poor fellow for what he cannot help.”

He looked so piteously at them that they both grew serious directly.

“Why, my dear boy,” cried Mr Preston, “can you not see that you keep on overtasking yourself? Growing worse! Now, be reasonable; you had to be carried down to the fly in London; the porters carried you to the first-class carriage in which you went down by rail, and you were carried to the steamer.”

“Yes,” said Lawrence sadly; “that is true, but I did not feel so weak as this.”

“Get out, you young cock-goose!” cried Mr Burne. “Why, you have been bathing, and you haven’t had your breakfast yet.”

“And you are mistaking fatigue for weakness,” said the professor.

“Of course,” cried Mr Burne. “Why, look here. You were out nearly all day yesterday with us or with Yussuf looking at ruins, going over the place, and seeing about the horses, and now, as soon as you woke this morning, you were off with Preston here to kick and splash about in the water. Weak? what nonsense! Oh, here’s Yussuf. Here, hi! you grand Turk, what do you say about this boy? He thinks he is not so well.”

“The young effendi?” cried Yussuf. “Oh! I have been out this morning to see some other horses, excellencies, that are far better than any we have yet seen. They are rough, sturdy little fellows from the mountains, and you ought to buy these.”

“Buy or hire?” said the professor.

“Buy, excellency. You will feed and treat them well, and at the end they will be worth as much if not more than you gave for them. Besides, if you hire horses, they will be inferior, and you will be always changing and riding fresh beasts.”

“Yes, of course,” said the old lawyer; “but there is no risk.”

“Your excellency will pardon me, there will be more risks. We shall traverse many dangerous mountain paths, and a man should know his horse and his horse know him. They should be good friends, and take care of each other. A Turkish horse loves the hand that feeds him, the master that rides upon his back.”

“I am sure you are right, Yussuf,” said the professor. “We will go by your advice and buy the horses.”

“Here, hold hard!” cried Mr Burne. “Look here. Do you mean to tell me that I am expected to ride a horse along a dangerous mountain road? I mean a shelf over a precipice.”

“Certainly, your excellency, the roads are very bad.”

“You do not feel nervous about that, do you, Burne?” said the professor.

“Oh, dear me, no, not at all,” cried the old lawyer sarcastically. “Go on. I’ve had a pretty good hardening already, what with knocking on the head, drowning, shipwrecking, starving, and walking off my legs.”

“But, if you really object to our programme, we will try some easier route,” said the professor.

“Oh, by no means, sir, by no means. I have only one thing to say. I see you have made up your mind to kill me, and I only make one proviso, and that is, that you shall take me back to England to bury me decently. I will not—I distinctly say it—I will not stay here.”

“Your excellency shall come to no harm,” said Yussuf, “if I can prevent it. With care and good horses there is very little risk.”

“How soon shall we go to see the horses?” cried Lawrence eagerly.

“When you have been lying up for a month,” replied Mr Burne gruffly. “You are too weak, and going back too much to venture out any more.”

“Till you have had a good breakfast,” said the professor, laughing as he saw the lad’s look of keen disappointment; and they sat down at once to a capital meal.

For they had been a week in Ansina, and were comfortably lodged in the house of a Turk whom Yussuf had recommended, and who, in a grave way, attended carefully to their wants. The luggage sent on by steamer had arrived safely, and, with the exception of the few things lost in the felucca, they were very little the worse for their mishap.

So far they had been delayed by the difficulty of obtaining horses, but now the opportunity had come for obtaining what was necessary, walking being out of the question, and the only means of traversing the rugged country, that was to be the scene of their ramblings, was by the help of a sure-footed horse.

Lawrence forgot all about his weakness as soon as breakfast was over, and started off with his companions to see the animals that were for sale.

They were at an outlying place a couple of miles away from their lodgings, and the walk in the delicious autumn air was most enjoyable. In the distance was the mysterious soft blue range of mountains that they were to penetrate for some six weeks, before the season grew too advanced, and to Lawrence it was a perfect wonderland that was to prove full of sights that would astound, adventures that would thrill; and, could he have had his way, he would have set off at once, and without all the tedious preparations that Yussuf deemed necessary.

The first mile of their way was uninteresting. Then they entered a little valley with precipitous sides, their path running by the side of a beautiful little stream, which they had to cross again and again; but their progress was not rapid, for Mr Burne always stopped to examine the pools and talk about how fond he had been of fishing when he was a boy.

Farther on they kept coming to little houses pleasantly situated in gardens, very much as might be seen in the suburbs of an English town, for these were the country houses of the wealthy Turks of the place, who came and dwelt here in the hot times of the summer.

There was a great similarity about these places. Houses and walls were built of fine, large, well-squared blocks of stone and marble, with every here and there a trace of carving visible—all showing that the Turk’s quarry was the ruined Roman city, which offered an almost inexhaustible supply.

These little estates were either just above the river, perched on one side, or so arranged that the stream ran right through the grounds, rippling amongst velvety grass lawns, overshadowed by great walnuts, with mulberry and plum trees in abundance.

“Hi, stop a moment,” cried Mr Burne, as they reached one beautiful clump of trees, quite a grove, whose leaves were waving in the soft mountain-breeze.

“What have you found?” said the professor, as Lawrence hurried up.

“That, sir, that,” cried Mr Burne. “See these trees.”

“Yes,” said the professor, “a magnificent clump of planes—what a huge size!”

“Exactly,” said the old lawyer. “Now, do you see what that proves?”

“What—the presence of those trees?”

“Yes, sir,” said the old lawyer dogmatically. “They show, sir, that the Turk is a much-abused man. People say that he never advances, but you see he does.”

“How?” said the professor, “by being too lazy to quarry stone or marble in these mountains, where they abound, and building his house out of the edifices raised by better men?”

“No, sir; by following our example, importing from us, and planting walnut-trees and these magnificent planes all about his place. Look at these! Why, I could almost fancy myself in Gray’s Inn Gardens.”

“My dear Burne, are you serious?”

“Serious, sir? Never more so in my life. They are beautiful.”

“Yes, they are very beautiful,” said the professor drily. “But I always thought that these trees were the natives of this country, and that instead of the Turks imitating us, we had seen the beauty of these trees, and transplanted some of them when young to our own land.”

“Absurd!” said the old lawyer dictatorially, and he was about to say more when Yussuf stopped at a rough kind of inclosure, where a Turk was seated upon the grass beneath a shady tree smoking thoughtfully, and apparently paying no heed to the new-comers.

“The horses are here,” he said; and upon being spoken to, the Turk rose, laid aside his pipe, and bowed.

It was not a long business, for Yussuf and the owner of the horses were compatriots, but Lawrence stared at the animals in dismay when he followed his companions into the inclosure. He had pictured to himself so many lovely flowing-maned creatures of Arab descent, large-eyed, wide of nostril, and with arched necks, and tails that swept the ground. He expected to see them toss up their heads and snort, and dash off wildly, but on the contrary the dozen horses that were in the inclosure went quietly on with their grazing in the most business-like manner, and when a boy was sent to drive them up, they proved to be shaggy, heavy-headed, rather dejected-looking animals, with not an attractive point about them.

“Surely you will not buy any of these, Preston,” said Mr Burne. “I do not understand horses, but those seem to be a very shabby lot.”

“They are young, effendi, healthy and strong,” said Yussuf gravely. “They are accustomed to the mountains, and that is what we require. Large, handsome horses, such as you see in the desert or at Istamboul, would be useless here.”

“There, I am not going to doubt your knowing best,” said Mr Burne quietly; and the bargain was made, four being selected for riding, and two that were heavier and stronger for baggage animals.

Arrangements were made for the horses to be driven before them down to Ansina, and as soon as the six purchased were driven out of the inclosure their companions trotted up, thrust their heads over a bar, and whinnied a farewell, while the others seemed to be in high glee at the change. They threw up their heads and snorted; and one that was of a cream colour, and the smallest of the lot, began to display a playfulness that upset all the rest. The way he displayed his humour was by stretching out his neck, baring his teeth, and running at and biting his companions in turn—a trick which necessitated a good deal of agility, for the other horses resented the attacks by presenting their heels to their playful companion for inspection—a proceeding of which he did not at all approve.

All went well, however, the animals were safely stowed away in the stable prepared for their use, and each was soon busy at work grinding up the barley served out for his particular benefit, oats being a luxury they were not called upon to enjoy.