Chapter 34 | A Startling Check | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Thirty Four.

Yussuf’s suspicions seemed to be without reason, for the rest of that day’s journey was finished without adventure, and the party reached a village and found good quarters for the night.

So comfortable were they that the scare was laughed at, and it seemed to all three that Yussuf was rather ashamed of his timidity.

Contrary to their experience of many nights past they found the head-man of the village civil and even bumble; but it did not excite the suspicion of the travellers, who congratulated themselves upon their good fortune.

The only drawback to their comfort was the fact that Lawrence was suffering somewhat from the shock of his descent from the rocky shelf.

At first he had merely felt a little stiff, the excitement of the whole adventure tending to keep his thoughts from his personal discomfort; but by degrees he found that he had received a peculiar jar of the whole system, which made the recumbent position the most comfortable that he could occupy.

It was no wonder, for the leaps which the pony had made were tremendous, and it was as remarkable that the little animal had kept its feet as that Lawrence had retained his seat in the saddle.

The next morning, a memorable one in their journey, broke bright and clear; and Lawrence, after a hearty breakfast of bread, yaourt, and honey, supplemented by coffee which might have been better, and peaches which could not have been excelled, mounted Ali Baba in the highest of spirits, feeling as he did far better for his night’s rest. The sun was shining gloriously and lighting up the sides of the mountains and flashing from the streams that trickled down their sides. Low down in the deep defiles there were hanging mists which looked like veils of silver decked with opalescent tints of the most delicate transparency, as they floated slowly before the morning breeze.

Their host of the night wished them good speed with a smiling face, and they were riding off when Lawrence happened to look back and saw that the man had taken off his turban and was making a derisive gesture, to the great delight of the group of people who were gathered round.

Lawrence thought it beneath his notice and turned away, but this once more seemed to give strength to Yussuf’s suspicions.

But a bright morning in the midst of the exhilarating mountain air is not a time for bearing in mind suspicions, or thinking of anything but the beauty of all around. They were higher up in the mountains now, with more rugged scenery and grand pine-woods; and as they rode along another of the curious shelf-like tracks by the defile there was constantly something fresh to see.

They had not been an hour on the road before Yussuf stopped to point across the gorge to an object which had taken his attention on the other side.

“Do you see, effendi Lawrence?” he said smiling.


“Yonder, just to the left of that patch of bushes where the stone looks grey?”

“Oh, yes; I see now,” cried the lad—“a black sheep.”

“Look again,” said Yussuf; and he clapped his hands to his mouth and uttered a tremendous “Ha-ha!”

As the shout ran echoing along the gorge the animal on the farther slope, quite two hundred yards away, went shuffling along at a clumsy trot for some little distance, and then stopped and stood up on its hind-legs and stared at them.

“A curious sheep, Lawrence!” said Mr Preston, adjusting his glass; “what do you make of it now?”

“Why, it can’t be a bear, is it?” cried Lawrence eagerly.

“Undoubtedly, and a very fine one,” said Mr Preston.

“Let’s have a look,” said Mr Burne; and he too focussed his glass. “Why, so it is!” he cried—“just such a one as we used to have upon the pomatum pots. Now, from what gardens can he have escaped?”

The professor burst out laughing merrily.

“It is the real wild animal in his native state, Burne,” he said.

“Then let’s shoot him and take home his skin,” cried Lawrence, preparing to fire.

“You could not kill it at this distance, effendi,” said Yussuf; “and even if you could, it would be a day’s journey to get round to that side and secure the skin. Look!”

The chance to fire was gone as he spoke, for the bear dropped down on all-fours, made clumsily for a pile of rocks, and Mr Preston with his glass saw the animal disappear in a hole that was probably his cave.

“Gone, Lawrence!” said the professor. “Let’s get on.”

“I should have liked to go on after him,” said Lawrence, gazing at the hole in the rocks wistfully; “there’s something so strange in seeing a real bear alive on the mountains.”

“Perhaps we shall see more yet,” said Yussuf, “for we are going into the wildest part we have yet visited. Keep a good look-out high up on each side, and I daresay we shall not go far without finding something.”

“Right, Yussuf,” cried the professor; “there is another of those grand old watch-towers. Look, Burne!—just like the others we have seen planted at the corner where two defiles meet.”

“Ah, to be sure—yes,” said the old lawyer. “What! an eagle’s nest?”

“And there goes the eagle,” cried Lawrence, pointing, as a huge bird swept by them high up on rigid wing, seeming to glide here and there without the slightest effort. “That’s an eagle, is it not, Mr Preston?”

“A very near relative, I should say,” replied the professor. “The lammergeier, as they call it in the Alpine regions. Yes, it must be. What a magnificent bird!”

“We shall see more and finer ones, I daresay,” said Yussuf! quietly; “but the time is passing, excellencies. We have a long journey before us, and I should like to see the better half of a difficult way mastered before mid-day.”

Their guide’s advice was always so good that they continued their slow progress, the baggage-horses ruling the rate at which they were able to proceed; and for the next hour they went on ascending and zigzagging alone; the rugged mountain track, with defile and gorge and ridge of rock rising fold upon fold, making their path increase in grandeur at every turn, till they were in one of nature’s wildest fastnesses, and with the air perceptibly brisker and more keen.

All at once, just as they had turned into the entrance to one of the most savage-looking denies they had yet seen, Yussuf pointed to a distant pile of rock and said sharply:

“Look, there is an animal you may journey for days without seeing. Take the glass, effendi Lawrence, and say what it is.”

The lad checked his pony, adjusted his glass, an example followed by the professor, while Mr Burne indulged himself with a pinch of snuff.

“A goat,” cried Lawrence, as he got the animal into the field of the glass, and saw it standing erect upon the summit of the rock, and gazing away from them— “A goat! And what fine horns?”

“An ibex, Lawrence, my boy. Goat-like if you like. Ah, there he goes. How easily they take alarm.”

For the animal made a bound and seemed to plunge from rock to rock down into a rift, and then up an almost perpendicular wall on the opposite side higher and higher until it disappeared.

“It is no wonder, excellency,” said Yussuf as they rode on along the narrow path, “when every hand is against them, and they have been taught that they are not safe from bullets half a mile away, and—Why is Hamed stopping?”

They had been halting to gaze at the ibex, and all such pauses in their journey were utilised for letting Hamed get well on ahead with his slow charge. Experience had taught them that to leave him behind with the necessaries of life was often to miss them altogether till the next morning.

In this case he had got several hundred yards in advance, but had suddenly stopped short, just at the point of a sharp elbow in the track, where they could see him with the two horses standing stock-still, and staring straight before him.

“Let’s get on and see,” said the professor, and they pressed on to come upon a spot where the track forked directly after, a narrower path leading up a rift in the mountains away to their left, and the sight of this satisfied Yussuf.

“Hamed thinks he may be doing wrong,” he said, “and that perhaps he ought to have turned down here. All right, go on!” he shouted in his own tongue, as they rode on past the wild passage among the rocks.

But Hamed did not stir, and as they advanced they could see that he was sheltering himself behind one of his horses, and still staring before him.

The way curved in, and then went out to the shoulder upon which the baggage-horses stood, doubtless bending in again directly on the other side. Hence, then, it was impossible for Yussuf and his party to see what was beyond; neither could they gain a sight by altering their course, for their path was but a shelf with the nearly perpendicular side of the gorge above and below.

They were now some eighty or ninety yards from the corner, and Yussuf shouted again:

“Go on, man; that is right.”

But Hamed did not move hand or foot, and Yussuf checked his horse.

“There is something wrong, effendis,” he said quietly; and he thrust his hand into his breast and drew out his revolver. “Get your weapons ready.”

“What, is there to be a fight?” said Mr Burne excitedly.

“I hope not,” said Mr Preston gravely, as he examined the charge of his double gun, an example followed by Lawrence, whose heart began to beat heavily.

“You had better halt here, excellencies,” said Yussuf. “I will go forward and see.”

“No,” said Mr Preston; “we will keep together. It is a time for mutual support. What do you think it is?”

“The man is timid,” said Yussuf. “He is a good driver of horses, but a little frightens him. The country is wild here; there may be wolves or a bear on the track which he would not dare to face, though they would run from him if he did.”

They all advanced together with their weapons ready for immediate use, and Lawrence’s hands trembled with eagerness, as he strained his eyes forward in expectation of a glimpse at bear or wolf, and in the hope of getting a good shot.

“Why don’t you speak? Are you ill?” continued Yussuf as he rode on forward. But Hamed did not stir; and it was not until the guide could almost touch him that he was able to see what was the cause of his alarm, and almost at the same moment the others saw it too.

“We must keep a bold face and retreat,” said Yussuf in a quick low tone. “You, Hamed, take the bridle of that horse and lead him back; the other will follow.”

“No, no, no; they will fire.”

“So shall I,” said Yussuf, placing the muzzle of his pistol close to the man’s ear. “Obey me; or—”

Hamed shuddered and began to implore, but Yussuf was rigid.

“Go on back,” he said forcing himself round the foremost horse, closely followed by the professor, though there was hardly room for their steeds to pass, and there was a fall of several hundred feet below, while, pressed like this, Hamed began to whimper; but he obeyed, and led the horses past Lawrence and Mr Burne, who now went forward, eager and excited to know what was wrong, and upon joining their companions it was to find themselves face to face with a gang of about twenty fierce-looking men, all mounted, and who were seated with their guns presented toward the travellers’ heads.