Chapter 22 | The Use of a Straw Hat | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Twenty Two.

“There,” said Mr Burne, as he lit a cigar, and sat with his back to a stone; “if anybody in Fleet Street, or at my club, had told me I could have such an adventure as this, I should have said—” Here he paused.

“What, Mr Burne?” asked Lawrence after a time.

“Tarradiddle!” replied the old gentleman shortly, and he took out his handkerchief to blow his nose, but promptly suppressed the act, and said:

“No; wait till we get somewhere that is likely to be safe.”

That word “safe” occurred to everybody in the silence of that dark and solemn gorge, whose sombre aspect was enough to daunt the most courageous; but somehow that night, in spite of the riskiness of their position, no one felt much alarmed.

There were several things which combined to make them feel cheerful. One was the company, for the knowledge of being there with a trusty companion on either side was encouraging.

Then there was the calm confidence given by the knowledge that their enemies had run from them like a flock of sheep before a dog.

Lastly, there were the satisfactory sensations produced by the recovery of their horses and belongings, and consequent enjoyment of a good meal.

Taken altogether, then, after proper arrangements had been made to secure the horses, and for a watch being kept, no scruple was felt about lying down to sleep, everyone with his weapons ready for use in case of an attack, which after all was not greatly feared.

Lawrence wanted to take his turn at keeping guard, but the professor forbade it.

“No,” he said; “you have done your day’s work. Sleep and grow strong. You will help us best by getting vigorous;” and hence it was that the lad lay down in the solemn stillness of the vast place, gazing up at the stars, which seemed dazzlingly bright in the dark sky, and then it seemed to him that he closed his eyes for a moment, and opened them again to see the mountain slopes bathed in sunshine, while the birds were twittering and piping, and the black desolate gorge of the previous night was a scene of loveliness such as he could not have imagined possible there.

“Shows the value of the sun, Lawrence,” said the professor laughing; “and what a fine thing it would be if some of our clever experimentalists could contrive to bottle and condense enough sunshine to last us all through the winters.”

Just then Yussuf came up through the dewy grasses and flowers with Lawrence’s gun over his shoulder.

“Well,” said the professor, “what next—a good breakfast, and then start?”

“Yes, effendi,” said the Turk, “but the other way.”

“Other way?”

“Yes, effendi; the band of rascals are lying in ambush for us about a mile distant.”

“Are you sure?”

Yussuf smiled.

“I went out at the mouth of the ravine to observe,” he said; “and I could see nothing till, all at once, I saw a flash of light.”


“Such a flash could only be reflected from a sword or gun.”

“From water—a piece of glass—or crystal.”

“No, excellency. There is no water up on the mountain slope. Pieces of glass are not seen there, and a crystal must be cut and polished to send forth such rays. The enemy are waiting for us in a depression, out there beyond the mouth of the plain, and we must go back the other way.”

“Of course. It will be safer. But after a time they will follow us.”

“I think I can stop that, effendi,” said their guide smiling; and while the horses were being loaded, and everything was being got ready for a start, Yussuf took out his knife, and selecting from among the bushes a good straight stick, he cut and trimmed it carefully till it was about the length of a gun.

This done, he climbed up the ridge that screened them from the mouth of the gorge, and, selecting a spot from whence a good view of the sloping plain beyond could be obtained, he walked up and down for a few minutes.

After this he beckoned to the professor and the others to join him; and as soon as they were there he drew their attention to a clump of bushes, as they seemed, but which must have been trees, a couple of miles away, though in that wondrously clear mountain air the distance did not seem to be a quarter.

Mr Burne was nearest to the guide, in his straw hat, which he had retained in safety so far through having it secured by a lanyard, but it was growing very shabby, and was much out of shape from its soaking in the sea.

The professor noticed that Yussuf—who was conspicuous in his red fez skull-cap, about which was rolled a good deal of muslin in the form of a turban or puggree—kept walking up and down on the edge of the ridge, and pointing out to Mr Burne the beauty of the prospect, with the distant ranges of snow-topped mountains, and the old lawyer kept on nodding his satisfaction.

“Yes. Very fine—very fine,” he said; “but I want my breakfast.”

“There!” exclaimed Mr Preston suddenly. “I saw it yonder.”

“The flash of light, effendi?” said Yussuf quietly.

“Yes. And there again.”

“I saw it then,” said Lawrence quickly; and no one doubted now that their guide was right.

After staying there for about a quarter of an hour Yussuf suggested that as the horses were ready, breakfast should be hastily eaten and they should start. Consequently all went down, a hearty meal was made, Yussuf taking his walking to and from the ridge to guard against surprise, and then he approached Mr Burne to request him to give up his straw hat.

“My straw hat!” exclaimed the old gentleman in astonishment.

“Yes, effendi,” replied Yussuf. “I propose to fasten it, after wearing it for a few minutes and walking up and down, on one of the little bushes at the top of the ridge, and to stick this little pole out by its side.”

“What! to look like a man on guard?” cried Lawrence eagerly.

“Yes,” replied Yussuf. “It will keep the enemy where they are watching it for half the day, even if it does not keep them till evening before they find out their mistake.”

“Then, stick your turban there,” said Mr Burne shortly.

“I would, effendi, if it would do as well, but it would not be so striking, nor so likely to keep them away. They might suspect it to be a trick; but they would never think that an English effendi would leave his hat in a place like that.”

“And quite right, too,” said the old lawyer with a snort. “No; I shall not expose my brains to the risk of sunstroke, sir. Bah! Pish! Pooh! Absurd!”

There was a shiver among the horses, and a disposition to start off again, for Mr Burne blew another of his sonorous blasts; but the moment he whisked out his yellow silk flag, the others, as if by instinct, seized the horses’ bridles and checked them in time.

“Pah! Bless my heart!” ejaculated the old gentleman, as soon as he saw what he had done. “Here, Lawrence, you will have to take all my pocket-handkerchiefs away till we get back to a civilised land.”

“If the effendi would let me have his handkerchiefs I could make him a turban to keep off the sun, or if he would condescend to wear my fez it is at his service.”

“Rubbish! Stuff!” cried Mr Burne, taking off his battered straw hat, which looked as if he had slept in it on the previous night, if not before, and then sticking it on again at a fierce angle. “Do I look like a man, sir, who would wear a fez with a towel round it? Hang it all, sir, I am an Englishman.”

Yussuf bowed.

“Why, he must think me mad, Lawrence.”

“My dear Burne,” said the professor smiling, “Yussuf is quite right. Come, you might make that concession.”

“Sir, do I look like a man who would wear a fez with a jack-towel twisted round it?” cried Mr Burne in the most irate manner.

“You certainly do not, my dear Burne,” said the professor laughing; “but you do look like a man who would make any sacrifice for the benefit of his party.”

“Ah! I thought as much,” cried the old gentleman. “Now you come round me with carney. There, Yussuf, take it,” he cried, snatching off his straw hat and sending it skimming through the air. “Now, then, what next? Do you want my coat and boots to dress up your Guy Fawkes with? Don’t be modest, pray. Have even my shirt too while you are about it.”

He took five pinches of snuff in succession so close to Ali Baba that the horse began to sneeze—or snort would be the better term.

Yussuf smiled, and took off his fez, from which he rapidly untwisted the muslin folds.

“Your excellency will condescend to wear my fez?” he said.

“No, sir, I will not,” cried Mr Burne. “Certainly not.”

“But your excellency may suffer from sunstroke,” said Yussuf. “I must insist.”

“You must what?” cried Mr Burne angrily.

“Insist, your excellency,” replied Yussuf gravely. “I am answerable for your safety. Your life, while I am in your service, is more than mine.”

“And yet, sir, you brought me here, along a break-neck path, to fight robbers yesterday. Didn’t they shoot at me?”

“I could not prevent that, excellency,” said Yussuf smiling. “I can prevent you from being smitten by the sun. Your handkerchief, please.”

“Oh, all right!” exclaimed Mr Burne ruefully. “I suppose I am nobody at all here. Take it. Here are two.”

“Hah!” ejaculated Yussuf smiling with satisfaction, and with all the oriental’s love of bright colours, as he took the two yellow silk handkerchiefs, and rolled them loosely before arranging them in a picturesque fashion round his bright scarlet fez, and handing the head-dress back to Mr Burne.

“Humph!” ejaculated that gentleman, putting it on with a comical expression of disgust in his countenance. “Here, you, Lawrence, if you dare to laugh at me, I’ll never forgive you.”

“Do, please, Mr Burne,” cried the lad, “for I must laugh: I can’t help it.”

So he did laugh, and the professor too, while the old lawyer gave an angry stamp.

“Look here,” said the professor; “shall I wear the fez, and you can take my hat?”

“Stuff, sir! you know your head’s twice as big as mine,” cried Mr Burne.

“Have mine, Mr Burne,” said Lawrence.

“Bah! do you think I’ve got a stupid little head like you have. No, I shall wear the fez, and I hope we shall meet some English people. It will be a warning to them not to come out into such wild spots as this.”

The fact was that the old gentleman looked thoroughly picturesque, while Yussuf looked scarcely less so, as he rapidly turned the roll of muslin which he had taken from his fez into a comfortable white head-dress and put it on.

Then, taking the stick and the straw hat, he climbed up to the top of the ridge, where they saw him shoulder the stick and walk to and fro as if on guard, before rapidly arranging the hat upon the top of a little cypress-tree, and placing the stick through the branches at a slope.

So cleverly was this done, that even from where the travellers stood just below, the ruse was effective. Seen from a quarter of a mile away it must have been just like Mr Burne on sentry.

“There,” said the old lawyer with comic anger, “worse and worse. I am being set up in effigy for these barbarians to laugh at.”

“No,” said the professor, “we are having the laugh at them.”

Yussuf came down smiling after finishing his task, and then, a final glance round having been given, and a look at the arms, they prepared to mount.

One of the baggage-horses bore the grain used for their supply, and as a good feed for six horses night and morning had somewhat reduced his load, he was chosen to bear Hamed.

For the driver, in spite of the bold face he put upon the matter, was quite unfit to walk. The rough treatment he had received when his legs were tied together had completely crippled him, and in addition his head was injured by a kick from his horse when he fell.

The man was brave, though, as soon as he found that he was not to be left behind, and all being now ready, Yussuf climbed the ridge once more to see whether the enemy was approaching, and after peering just over the edge, he descended, and they went on down the defile as fast as their horses could walk.