Chapter 3 | A Plan is Made | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Three.

As they entered, a pale attenuated lad of about seventeen, who was lying back in an easy-chair, with his head supported by a pillow, and a book in his hand, turned to them slightly, and his unnaturally large eyes had in them rather a wondering look, which was succeeded by a smile as the professor strode to his side, and took his long, thin, girlish hand.

“Why, Lawrence, my boy, I did not know you were so ill.”

“Ill? Nonsense, man!” said the lawyer shortly. “He’s not ill. Are you, my lad?”

He shook hands rather roughly as he spoke from the other side of the invalid lad’s chair, while Mrs Dunn gave her hands an impatient jerk, and went behind to brush the long dark hair from the boy’s forehead.

He turned up his eyes to her to smile his thanks, and then laid his cheek against the hand that had been smoothing his hair.

“No, Mr Burne, I don’t think I’m ill,” he said in a low voice. “I only feel as if I were so terribly weak and tired. I get too tired to read sometimes, and I never do anything at all to make me so.”

“Hah!” ejaculated the lawyer.

“I thought it was the doctor come back,” continued the lad. “I say, Mr Preston—you are my guardian, you know—is there any need for him to come? I am so tired of cod-liver oil.”

“Yah!” ejaculated the lawyer; “it would tire anybody but a lamp.”

He snorted this out, and then blew another blast upon his nose, which made some ornament upon the chimney-piece rattle.

“Doctor?” said the professor rather dreamily, as he sat down beside the patient. “I suppose he knows best. I did not know you were so ill, my boy.”

“I’m not ill, sir.”

“But they say you are, my lad. I was going abroad; but I heard that you were not so well, and—and I came up.”

“I am very glad,” said the lad, “for it is very dull lying here. Old Dunny is very good to me, only she will bother me so to take more medicine, and things that she says will do me good, and I do get so tired of everything. How is the book getting on, sir?”

“Oh, very slowly, my lad,” said the professor, with more animation. “I was going abroad to travel and study the places about which I am writing, but—”

“When do you go?” cried the lad eagerly.

“I was going within a few days, but—”


“Smyrna first, and then to the south coast of Asia Minor, and from thence up into the mountains.”

“Is it a beautiful country, Mr Preston?”

“Yes; a very wild and lovely country, I believe.”

“With mountains and valleys and flowers?”

“Oh, yes, a glorious place.”

“And when are you going?”

“I was going within a few days, my boy,” said the professor kindly; “but—”

“Is it warm and sunshiny there, sir?”


“In winter?”

“Oh, yes, in the valleys; in the mountains there is eternal snow.”

“But it is warm in the winter?”

“Oh, yes; the climate is glorious, my lad.”

“And here, before long, the leaves will fall from that plane-tree in the corner of the square, that one whose top you can just see; and it will get colder, and the nights long, and the gas always burning in the lamps, and shining dimly through the blinds; and then the fog will fill the streets, and creep in through the cracks of the window; and the blacks will fall and come in upon my book, and it will be so bitterly cold, and that dreadful cough will begin again. Oh, dear!”

There was silence in the room as the lad finished with a weary sigh; and though it was a bright morning in September, each of the elder personages seemed to conjure up the scenes the invalid portrayed, and thought of him lying back there in the desolate London winter, miserable in spirit, and ill at ease from his complaint.

Then three of the four present started, for the lawyer blew a challenge on his trumpet.

“There is no better climate anywhere, sir,” he said, addressing the professor, “and no more healthy spot than London.”

“Bless the man!” ejaculated Mrs Dunn.

“I beg to differ from you, sir,” said the professor in a loud voice, as if he were addressing a class. “By the reports of the meteorological society—”

“Hang the meteorological society, sir!” cried the lawyer, “I go by my own knowledge.”

“Pray, gentlemen!” cried Mrs Dunn, “you forget how weak the patient is.”

“Hush, Mrs Dunn,” said the lad eagerly; “let them talk. I like to hear.”

“I beg pardon,” said the professor; “and we are forgetting the object of our visit. Lawrence, my boy, would you like to go to Brighton or Hastings, or the Isle of Wight?”

“No,” said the lad sadly, “it is too much bother.”

“To Devonshire, then—to Torquay?”

“No, sir. I went there last winter, and I believe it made me worse. I don’t want to be always seeing sick people in invalid chairs, and be always hearing them talk about their doctors. How long shall you be gone, sir?”

“How long? I don’t know, my lad. Why?”

The boy was silent, and lay back gazing out of the window in a dreamy way for some moments before he spoke again, and then his hearers were startled by his words.

“I feel,” he said, speaking as if to himself, “as if I should soon get better if I could go to a land where the sun shone, and the sea was blue, and the sweet soft cool breezes blew down from the mountains that tower up into the clear sky—where there were fresh things to see, and there would be none of this dreadful winter fog.”

The professor and the lawyer exchanged glances, and the latter took a great pinch of snuff out of his box, and held it half-way up towards his nose.

Then he started, and let it fall upon the carpet—so much brown dust, for the boy suddenly changed his tone, and in a quick excited manner exclaimed, as he started forward:

“Oh! Mr Preston, pray—pray—take me with you when you go.”

“But, my dear boy,” faltered the professor, “I am not going now. I have altered my plans.”

“Then I must stop here,” cried the boy in a passionate wailing tone—“stop here and die.”

There was a dead silence once more as the lad covered his face with his thin hands, only broken by Mrs Dunn’s sobs as she laid her head upon the back of the chair and wept aloud, while directly after Mr Burne took out his yellow handkerchief, prepared for a blow, and finally delivered himself of a mild and gentle sniff.


It was the deep low utterance of a strong man who was deeply moved, and as the boy let fall his thin white fingers from before his eyes he saw that the professor was kneeling by his chair ready to take one of his hands and hold it between his broad palms.

“Lawrence, my boy,” he said; “your poor father and I were great friends, and he was to me as a brother; your mother as a sister. He left me as it were the care and charge of you, and it seems to me that in my selfish studies I have neglected my trust; but, Heaven helping me, my boy, I will try and make up for the past. You shall so with me, my dear lad, and we will search till we find a place that shall restore you to health and strength.”

“You will take me with you?” cried the boy with a joyous light in his eyes.

“That I will,” cried the professor.

“And when?”

“As soon as you can be moved.”

“But,” sighed the lad wearily, “it will cost so much.”

“Well?” said the professor, “What of that? I am not a poor man. I never spend my money.”

“Oh! if it came to that,” said the lawyer, taking some more snuff and snapping his fingers, “young Lawrence here has a pretty good balance lying idle.”

“Mr Burne, for shame!” cried Mrs Dunn; “here have I been waiting to hear you speak, and you encourage the wild idea, instead of stamping upon it like a black beadle.”

“Wild idea, ma’am?” cried the lawyer, blowing a defiant blast.

“Yes, sir; to talk about taking that poor weak sickly boy off into foreign lands among savages, and cannibals, and wild beasts, and noxious reptiles.”

“Stuff, ma’am, stuff!”

“But it isn’t stuff, sir. The doctor said—”

“Hang the doctor, ma’am!” cried the lawyer. “The doctor can’t cure him, poor lad, so let’s see if we can’t do a little better.”

“Why, I believe you approve of it, sir!” cried Mrs Dunn with a horror-stricken look.

“Approve of it, ma’am? To be sure, I do. The very thing. Asia Minor, didn’t you say, Mr Preston?”

The professor bowed.

“Yes; I’ve heard that you get summer weather there in winter. I think you have hit the right nail on the head.”

“And you approve of it, sir?” cried the boy excitedly.

“To be sure, I do, my lad.”

“It will kill him,” said Mrs Dunn emphatically.

“Tchah! stuff and nonsense, ma’am!” cried the lawyer. “The boy’s too young and tough to kill. We’ll take him out there and make a man of him.”

“We, sir?” exclaimed the professor.

“Yes, sir, we,” said the lawyer, taking some more snuff, and dusting his black waistcoat. “Hang it all! Do you think you are the only man in England who wants a holiday?”

“I beg your pardon,” said the professor mildly; “of course not.”

“I haven’t had one worth speaking of,” continued Mr Burne, “for nearly—no, quite thirty years, and all that time I’ve been in dingy stuffy Sergeant’s Inn, sir. Yes; we’ll go travelling, professor, and bring him back a man.”

“It will kill him,” cried Mrs Dunn fiercely, and ruffling up and coming forward like an angry hen in defence of her solitary chick, the last the rats had left.

The lawyer sounded his trumpet, as if summoning his forces to a charge.

“I say he shall not go.”

“Mrs Dunn,” began the professor blandly.

“Stop!” cried the lawyer; “send for Doctor Shorter.”

“But he has been, sir,” remonstrated Mrs Dunn.

“Then let him come again, ma’am. He shall have his fee,” cried the lawyer; “send at once.”

Mrs Dunn’s lips parted to utter a protest, but the lawyer literally drove her from the room, and then turned back, taking snuff outrageously, to where the professor was now seated beside the sick lad.

“That’s routing the enemy,” cried the lawyer fiercely. “Why, confound the woman! She told me that the doctor said he ought to be taken to a milder clime.”

“But do you really mean, Mr Burne, that, supposing the doctor gives his consent, you would accompany us abroad?”

“To be sure I do, sir, and I mean to make myself as unpleasant as I can. I’ve a right to do so, haven’t I.”

“Of course,” said the professor coldly.

“And I’ve a right to make myself jolly if I like, haven’t I, sir?”

“Certainly,” replied the professor, gazing intently at the fierce grizzled little man before him, and wondering how much he spent a-year in snuff.

“It will not cost you anything, and I shall not charge my expenses to the estate, any more than I shall let you charge yours, sir.”

“Of course not, sir,” said the professor more coldly still, and beginning to frown.

“You shall pay your expenses, I’ll pay mine, and young Lawrence here shall pay his; and I tell you what, sir, we three will have a thoroughly good outing. We’ll take it easy, and we’ll travel just where you like, and while you make notes, Lawrence here and I will fish and run about and catch butterflies, eh? Hang it, I haven’t caught a butterfly these three or four and thirty years, and I think it’s time I had a try. Eh, what are you laughing at, sir?”

Lawrence Grange’s laugh was low and feeble, but it brightened up his sad face, and was contagious, for it made the professor smile as well. The cold stern look passed away, and he held out his hand to the lawyer.

“Agreed, sir,” he said. “If the doctor gives his consent, we will all three go, and, please Heaven, we will restore our young friend here his health and strength.”

“Agreed, sir; with the doctor’s consent or without,” cried the lawyer, grasping the extended hand. “By George, we must begin to make our preparations at once! and as for the doctor—Oh, here he is!”

For there was a double knock, and directly after Mrs Dunn, appearing very much agitated, ushered in the doctor, who did not look quite so cool as he did when he left.

“Oh!” he ejaculated, “I was afraid from Mrs Dunn’s manner that something was wrong.”

“No, doctor, nothing,” said the lawyer. “We only want to ask you what you think of our young friend here being taken to spend the winter in Turkey.”

“Admirable!” said the doctor, “if it could be managed.”

“Oh, Doctor Shorter!” wailed Mrs Dunn, “I thought you would stop this mad plan.”

“There, madam, there!” cried the lawyer; “what did I say?”

“But he is not fit to move,” cried Mrs Dunn, while the boy’s cheeks were flushed, and his eyes wandered eagerly from speaker to speaker.

“Only with care,” said the doctor. “I should not take a long sea trip, I think; but cross to Paris, and then go on gently, stopping where you pleased, to Brindisi, whence the voyage would be short.”

“The very thing!” cried the lawyer, giving one emphatic blow with his nose. “What do you say, professor?”

“It is the plan I had arranged if I had gone alone,” was the reply; “and I think if Doctor Shorter will furnish us with the necessary medicines—”

“He requires change more than medicines,” said the doctor. “Care against exertion, and—there, your own common sense will tell you what to do.”

“Doctor! doctor! doctor!” sobbed Mrs Dunn; “I didn’t think it of you. What’s to become of me?”

“You, madam?” replied the doctor. “You can read and write letters to our young friend here, and thank Heaven that he has friends who will take him in charge and relieve him from the risk of another winter in our terrible climate.”

“Hear, hear!” and “No, no!” cried the lawyer. “Doctor Shorter, ours is not a bad climate, and I will not stand here and listen to a word against it. Look at me, sir! Thirty years in Sergeant’s Inn—fog, rain, snow, and no sunshine; and look at me, sir—look at me!”

“My dear sir,” said the doctor smiling, “you know the old saying about one man’s meat being another man’s poison? Suppose I modify my remark, and say terrible climate for our young friend. You are decided, then, to take him?”

“Certainly,” said the professor.

“To Turkey?”

“Turkey in Asia, sir, where I propose to examine the wonderful ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman cities.”

“And hunt up treasures of all kinds, eh?” said the doctor smiling.

“I hope we may be fortunate enough to discover something worthy of the search.”

“But, let me see—the climate; great heat in the plains; intense cold in the mountains; fever and other dangers. You must be careful, gentlemen. Brigands—real brigands of the fiercest kind—men who mean heavy ransoms, or chopped-off heads. Then you will have obstinate Turks, insidious and tricking Greeks, difficulties of travel. No child’s play, gentlemen.”

“The more interest, sir,” replied the professor, “the greater change.”

“Well,” said the doctor, “I shall drop in every day till you start, and be able to report upon our friend’s health. Now, good day.”

The doctor left the room with Mrs Dunn, and as he went out Mr Burne blew a flourish, loud enough to astonish the professor, who wondered how it was that so much noise could be made by such a little man, till he remembered the penetrating nature of the sounds produced by such tiny creatures as crickets, and then he ceased to be surprised.