Chapter 42 | A Sad Failure | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Forty Two.

At last!

The Chumleys were fast asleep; the wood fire had burned down into a faint glow that played over the white ashes, and the air seemed to be piercingly cold.

The guards had looked in according to their custom, and then proved how cold it was by stopping by the fire for about a quarter of an hour, talking in a low tone together before going out.

The provisions, principally bread and raisins, were taken out of Yussuf’s hiding-place, where he kept the worsted rope, and this latter he wore twisted round his chest, beneath his loose garment, ready in case it might be wanted. The food was made into six packages, and each took his load, leaving two for the Chumleys, and now a short conversation ensued about Hamed, whom they had only seen once since their imprisonment. For the driver had been sent to another part of the old ruins with the horses.

The professor was saying that they ought to try and get Hamed away with them; but Yussuf declared it would be impossible, and said that as a compatriot he was perfectly safe.

Under these circumstances it was decided to leave him; and now, all being ready, Lawrence was deputed to awaken the Chumleys, and bid them rise and follow.

“How do you feel, my lad?” said the professor, with his lips to Lawrence’s ears.

“Nervous, sir.”

“No wonder. It seems cruel to have to leave so much behind, but never mind. Now, Burne, are you strung up?”

“Yes, quite,” was the reply.

“Ready, Yussuf?”

“Yes, excellency, and mind, once more, all are to follow me close under the walls. Not a word is to be spoken.”

“But you will pause for a few minutes in the subterranean passage,” whispered the professor. “I must see that.”

“You will have ample time, excellency. Now, Lawrence effendi, awaken your friends.”

Lawrence drew a long breath, and stooping down, laid his hand upon Mr Chumley’s shoulder.

“Don’t!” was the gruff response.

“Mr Chumley, wake up. Hush! Don’t speak.”

“Eh, what? Time to get up. Why don’t you pull aside the rug?”

“Hush, sir! Wake up.”

“Eh, what? Is my wife ill?”

“No, no. Are you awake now?”

“Awake? Yes, of course; what is it?”

“We have a way open to escape. Wake your wife. Tell her not to speak.”

“But she will. Oceans!” said the little man sadly.

“She must not speak. Wake her; tell her there is a way of escape, and then you two must carry these parcels of food, and follow in silence.”

“I say, Lawrence, old man, is it real?” he whispered.

“Quite! Quick! You are wasting time.”

“But won’t they shoot at us?”

“Not if you are both silent,” whispered Lawrence; and creeping on all-fours the little man reached over, awakened his wife, and communicated the news.

To the surprise of all she woke up quite collected, grasped the idea at once, and rose to her feet. Then putting on her head-dress, and throwing a shawl over her shoulders and securing the ends—

“I am ready,” she said.

“Bravo!” whispered the professor. “Now, silence, for we have to pass the guards.”

“But where are we going?” said Chumley.

“Chumley! Oh, that tongue!” whispered his wife.

“Silence!” said Yussuf decidedly; and then after a pause, “Ready?”

There was no reply, and taking this for consent, he bade the professor come last, after holding the rugs aside till all had passed, and then he stepped out, and stepped back again, for a piercingly cold breath of air had darted into the prison.

“It is snowing,” he said in a low whisper.

“Well?” said Mr Burne, “we are going down from the mountain, and we shall leave it behind, shall we not?”

“Yes, perhaps,” said the guide, in a doubting manner. “Shall we risk it?”

“Yes, certainly,” said Mr Preston. “We must go now.”

“It is well,” said Yussuf, and he stepped out, the others following in his steps; but when it came to Lawrence’s turn, to his intense surprise he found that his feet sank deep in the softly gathering flakes. He looked to his left as he kept on by the wall; but the guards were not visible though their voices could be heard, and it was evident that they had sheltered themselves among some stones where they were gossiping together.

Not a sound was heard but the rush of wind as the little party crept on—their footsteps were effectually muffled, and in a few minutes they were beyond the hearing of the guards, even had they spoken; but they had to keep close together, for the drifting snow was blinding, and hid their footprints almost as soon as they were formed.

Away to their left lay the ruins which formed the robbers’ town, and farther away, and still more to the left, lay the way to the entrance, where there was quite a grand room, and a goodly fire burned; but the fugitives could only see snow: the air was thick with it, and they kept on until Yussuf stopped so suddenly that they struck one against the other.

“What is it?” said Lawrence, who was next to him now, the Chumleys having asked him to go before them.

“I have lost my way,” said Yussuf angrily; “the snow has deceived me. The old temple should be here.”

“Well, here it is,” said Lawrence, who had stretched out his hand. “Here is one of the columns.”

“Ha!” ejaculated Yussuf; “good boy! Yes, the fourth; I know it by this broken place in the side. Two more steps and we are in shelter.”

It was a proof of his admirable powers as a guide to have found the way in the midst of the blinding snow, but no one thought of that. Every mind was strained to the greatest pitch of tension; and when Yussuf led the way into the old temple, and the footsteps were heard upon the marble floor, Mr Burne started and thought that their pursuers were upon them.

“Here is the place,” said Yussuf. “Lawrence effendi,” he continued as he raised the stone, “you know the way; go first and lead. I must come last and close the stone, so that they may not know the way we have come.”

“Is there any danger?” said Mrs Chumley excitedly.

“None at all,” replied Lawrence. “It is only to walk down some rough steps.”

She said no more, but let herself be helped down through the opening, and in five minutes they were all in what seemed to be quite a warm atmosphere, waiting in the intense darkness while Yussuf carefully closed the stone.

“There is nothing to mind,” said Lawrence. “I have been all the way down here, and I will tell you when the steps end and the rough slopes begin.”

He spoke aloud now, in quite a happy buoyant manner which affected the rest, and their spirits rose still higher when Yussuf suddenly struck a match and lit the lamp which his forethought had provided.

This done they stood in the rugged arched passage to shake off the clinging snow with which they were covered, and with spirits rising higher still the whole party followed Yussuf, who, lamp in hand, now went to the front.

“I should like to stop here for an hour or two to examine this roofing and the steps,” said the professor. “Pre-Roman evidently. We have plenty of time, have we not?”

“Effendi, it would be madness,” cried Yussuf angrily. “Come on!”

“I have done, and you are master of the situation,” said the professor quietly; while Mr Burne burst into a laugh, took snuff, and then blew his nose, so that it echoed strangely along the passage.

“Effendi!” cried Yussuf reproachfully.

“Tut-tut!” exclaimed the old lawyer. “I thought we were safe.”

“How much farther have we to go?” said Mrs Chumley at last.

“We are at the bottom,” replied Yussuf. “Mind, there are stones here. You must mind or you will hurt yourselves, and the wind will put out the lamp directly. There is an opening here, and when I have thrust out a stone or two we shall be on a rocky path. You will all follow me closely. Better take hold of hands; then, if one slips, all can help.”

But the wind did not blow out the lamp; and as they stood watching Yussuf creep along a narrow horizontal passage the light shone upon the dazzling snow which had filled up the hole, and after thrusting at it for a few minutes and scraping it down their guide desisted and crept back.

“I feared this,” he said sadly.

“Feared! Feared what?” cried Mr Burne.

“The snow, effendi. The way is blocked; the snow must be drifting down from the mountains and falling in sheets.”

“But it will not last, man?”

“Perhaps for days, excellency; and even if the hole were open, I see it would be utter madness to brave the dangers of that shelf of rock in the face of this storm.”

“Oh, nonsense!” cried Mr Burne; “let’s go on. We cannot get back.”

“His excellency does not know the perils of a mountain snow-storm or he would not say this. Suppose that we could force our way out through that snow, how are we to find the buried path with a precipice of a thousand feet below? No, excellencies, we are stopped for the present and must get back.”

“How unfortunate!” cried the professor; “but Yussuf is right—we must return and wait for a better time. Can we get back unseen?”

“We must try, excellency; but even if we are caught, it will not be till after we are out of the passage and the stone is down. This must be kept a secret.”

The way back did not seem long. The stone was closed, and, low-spirited and disheartened, they crossed the rugged floor of the old temple and stood once more amid the snow, which had already fallen knee-deep and in places drifted far deeper. But, in spite of the confusion caused by what answered to intense darkness, Yussuf led them straight to the prison-hall, and then close under its walls till the rug yielded to his hand, and as he drew it aside quite a pile of snow crumbled into the well-warmed place and began to melt.

They were safely back without discovery; and there was nothing left but to shake off the clinging snow, and, after hiding their packages, try to rid themselves of their disappointment in sleep.