Chapter 5 | Some Fellow-Travellers | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Five.

It was one bright morning, after a delightful passage, that the steamer made its way into the port of Smyrna, where everything around seemed to be full of novelty—strange craft manned by strange-looking crews, Turks with white turbans, Turks with scarlet fezzes and baggy breeches, and Turks with green turbans to show their reputation among their compatriots. Greeks, too—small, lithe, dark men, with keen faces and dark eyes, differing wonderfully from the calm, dignified, handsome Turks, but handsome in their way if it had not been for a peculiarly sharp, shifty expression that suggested craftiness and a desire to overreach, if not cheat.

There was a constant succession of fresh sights, from the Turkish man-of-war that was of British build, to the low fishing-boat with its long graceful lateen sail, spread out upon its curved and tapering spar.

Ashore it was the same. The landing-place swarmed with fresh faces, fresh scenes. Everything looked bright, and as if the atmosphere was peculiarly clear, while the shadows were darker and sharper as they were cast by the glowing sun.

For the sun did glow. The time was short since they had left England, with symptoms coming on of falling leaves, lengthening nights, and chills in the air, while here all was hot summer time, and one of the first things Mr Burne said was:

“There’s no mistake about it, I must have out a blouse.”

They were soon comfortably settled in the best hotel, from whence the professor decided to sally forth at once to call upon and deliver his letters of recommendation to the British consul; but he was not fated to go alone.

“I want to see everything and everybody,” said Mr Burne, “and I’ll go with you. Look here, Lawrence, my boy, I would not get in the sun. I’d go and lie down for an hour or two till we get back.”

“The sun seems to give me strength,” said Lawrence eagerly. “I have seen so little of it in London. I want to go with you, please.”

The professor darted a look at Mr Burne which seemed to say, “Let him have his own way;” and the landlord having been consulted, a Greek guide or dragoman was soon in readiness, and they started.

“Look here,” said Mr Burne, taking hold of the professor’s sleeve. “I don’t like the look of that chap.”

“What, the guide?”

“Yes! I thought Greeks were nice straightforward chaps, with long noses drawn down in a line from their foreheads, like you see in the British Museum. That fellow looks as if he wouldn’t be long in England before he’d be looking at a judge and jury, and then be sent off to penal servitude. Greek statues are humbug. They don’t do the Greeks justice.”

“It does not matter as long as he does his duty by us for the short time we are here. Be careful. He understands English.”

“Well, I am careful,” said Mr Burne; “and I’m looking after my pocket-book, watch, and purse; and if I were you I should do the same. He’s a rogue, I’m sure.”


“’Tisnt nonsense, sir; you’re too ready to trust everybody. Did you hear his name?”

“I did,” said Lawrence smiling. “Xenos Stephanos.”

“Yes,” grumbled Mr Burne. “There’s a name. I don’t believe any man could be honest with a name like that.”

The professor showed his white teeth as he laughed heartily, and Mr Burne took snuff, pulled out a glaring yellow silk handkerchief, and blew a blast that was like the snort of a wild horse.

It was done so suddenly that a grave-looking Turkish gentlemen in front started and turned round.

“Well, what is it?” said Mr Burne fiercely. “Did you never see an Englishman take snuff before?”

The Turk bowed, smiled, and continued his way.

“Such rudeness. Savages!” snorted out Mr Burne. “Don’t believe they know what a pocket-handkerchief is.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the Turk, turning round and smiling as he spoke in excellent English, “I think you will find we do, but we have not the use for them here that you have in England.”

“I—er—er—er. Bless my soul, sir! I beg your pardon,” cried the old lawyer. “I did not know you understood English, or—”

“Pray, say no more, sir,” said the Turkish gentleman gravely. And he turned to cross the street.

“Snubbed! Deserved it!” cried Mr Burne, taking off his straw hat, and doubling his fist, as if he were going to knock the crown out. “Let this be a lesson to you, Lawrence. Bless me! Thought I was among savages. Time I travelled.”

“You forgot that you were still amongst steam, and post-offices, and telegraph wires, and—”

“Bless me! yes,” cried Mr Burne; “and, look there, an English name up, and Bass’s pale ale. Astonishing!”

Just then the Greek guide stopped and pointed to a private house as being the English consul’s, and upon entering they were at once shown into a charmingly furnished room, in which were a handsome bronzed middle-aged gentleman, in earnest conversation with a tall masculine-looking lady with some pretensions to beauty, and a little easy-looking man in white flannel, a glass in one eye, and a very high shirt collar covered with red spots, as if a number of cochineal insects had been placed all over it at stated intervals and then killed.

He was smooth-faced all but a small moustache; apparently about thirty; plump and not ill-favoured, though his hair was cut horribly close; but a spectator seemed to have his attention taken up at once by the spotted collar and the eye-glass.

“Glad to see you, Mr Preston,” said the bronzed middle-aged man. “You too, Mr Burne. And how are you, Mr Grange? I hope you have borne the voyage well. Let me introduce you,” he continued, after shaking hands, “to our compatriots Mr and Mrs Charles Chumley. We can’t afford, out here, not to know each other.”

Mutual bowing took place, and the consul continued:

“Mr and Mrs Chumley are bound on the same errand as you are—a trip through the country here.”

“Yes,” said the gentleman; “we thought—”

“Hush, Charley! don’t,” interrupted the lady; “let me speak. Are you Professor Preston?”

“My name is Preston,” said the professor, bowing.

“Glad to meet you. Mr Chumley and I are going to do Turkey this year. Mr Thompson here said that you and your party were going to travel. He had had letters of advice. We are going to start directly and go through the mountains; I suppose you will do the same.”

“No,” said the professor calmly; “we are going to take steamer round to one of the southern ports and start from there.”

“Oh, I say, what a pity!” said the little gentleman, rolling his head about in his stiff collar, where it looked something like a ball in a cup. “We might have helped one another and been company.”

“I wish you would not interfere so, Charley,” cried the lady. “You know what I said.”

“All right, Agnes,” said the little gentleman dolefully. “Are you people staying at Morris’s?”

“Yes,” said the professor.

“So are we. See you at dinner, perhaps.”

“Charley!” exclaimed the lady in tones that were quite Amazonic, they were so deep and stern.

Then a short conversation took place with the consul, and the strange couple left, leaving their host free to talk to the other visitors.

“I had very kind letters from Mr Linton at the Foreign Office respecting you, gentlemen,” said the consul.

“I know Linton well,” said the professor.

“He is an old friend of mine too,” said the consul. “Well, I have done all I could for you.”

“About passports or what is necessary?” said the professor.

“I have a properly-signed firman for you,” said the consul smiling; “and the showing of that will be sufficient to ensure you good treatment, help, and protection from the officials in every town. They will provide you with zaptiehs or cavasses—a guard when necessary, and generally see that you are not molested or carried off by brigands, or such kind of folk.”

“But is it a fact, sir,” said Mr Burne, “that you have real brigands in the country?”

“Certainly,” said the consul smiling.

“What! in connection with postal arrangements, and steam, and telegraphs?”

“My dear sir, we have all these things here; but a score or so of miles out in the country, and you will find the people, save that firearms are common, just about as they were a thousand years ago.”

“Bless my heart!” exclaimed Mr Burne.

“It is a fact, sir; and I should advise great care, not only as to whom you trust among the people, but as to your health. The country is in a horrible state of neglect; the government does nothing.”

“But I do not see how that is to affect us,” said the professor, “especially as we have that firman.”

“It will not affect you in the more settled districts, but you may run risks in those which are more remote. I have been warning Mr and Mrs Chumley about the risks, but the lady laughed and said that she always carried a revolver.”

“Bless me!” exclaimed Mr Burne, “a lady with a revolver! She would not dare to fire it.”

“I don’t know about that,” said the professor.

“Of course,” continued the consul, “I am at your service, Mr Preston. If you are in need of aid, and are anywhere within reach of the telegraph wires, pray send to me and I will do my best. Can I do anything more for you?”

This was a plain hint to go, for it was evident that others were waiting for an interview with the representative of England; so a friendly farewell was taken and the little party returned to the hotel.

“I’m glad you decided to go a different way to those people, Preston,” said Mr Burne.

“The decision was made on the instant, my dear sir; for I did mean to start from here.”

“Ah, you thought those people would be a nuisance?”

“Indeed I did.”

The professor had hardly spoken when Lawrence touched his arm; for the parties alluded to approached, and the lady checked her lord, who was going to speak, by saying:

“I thought I would give you a hint about going pretty well-armed. You will not have to use your weapons if you let the people see that you have them.”

“Arms, ma’am! Stuff! rubbish!” cried Mr Burne. “The proper arms of an Englishman are the statutes at large, bound in law calf, with red labels on their back.”

“Statutes at large!” said the lady wonderingly.

“Yes, ma’am—the laws of his country, or the laws of the country where he is; and the proper arms of a lady, madam, are her eyes.”

“And her tongue,” said the professor to himself, but not in so low a voice that it was not heard by Lawrence, who gave him a sharp look full of amusement.

Mrs Chumley smiled and bowed.

“Very pretty, sir!” she said; “but you forget that we are going to travel through a country where the laws are often a mere name, and people must take care of themselves.”

“Take care of themselves—certainly, ma’am, but not by breaking the laws. If a pack of vagabonds were to attack me I should hand them over to the police, or apply at the nearest police-court for a summons. That would be a just and equitable way of treating the matter.”

“Where would you get your police, Burne? and whom would you get to serve your summons if you could procure one?”

“Nearest town, sir—anywhere.”

The lady laughed heartily, and her little husband rubbed his hands and then patted her on the back.

“This lady is quite right, my dear Burne,” said the professor. “I see that we shall be obliged to go armed.”

“Armed, sir!—armed?”

“Yes. We shall for the greater part of our time be in places where the laws are of no avail, unless a body of troops are sent to enforce them.”

“But then your firman will have furnished us with a Turkish soldier for our protection.”

“But suppose the Turkish soldier prefers running away to fighting?” exclaimed the lady, “what then?”

“What then, ma’am?—what then?” cried the lawyer. “I flatter myself that I should be able to quell the people by letting them know that I was an English gentleman. Do you think that at my time of life I am going to turn butcher and carve folks with a sword, or drill holes through them with bullets?”

“Yes, sir, if it comes to a case of who is to be carved or drilled. There!—think it over. Come, Charley! let’s have our walk.”

Saying which the lady nodded and smiled to the two elders, and was going off in an assumed masculine way, when she caught sight of Lawrence lying back in an easy-chair, and her whole manner changed as she crossed to him and held out her hand with a sweet, tender, womanly look in her eyes.

“Good-bye for the present!” she said. “You must make haste and grow strong, so as to help me up the mountains if we meet somewhere farther in.”