Chapter 7 | The Greek Skipper | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Seven.

“No, I can’t do it,” said Mr Burne after several brave efforts; “I really am a good deal jarred, and it is quite impossible. I am quite right as long as I keep still, but in such pain if I move that I can hardly bear it.”

“Then we will put off the journey for a week,” said the professor decisively.

“And disappoint the lad?” said Mr Burne. “No; you two must go.”

“How can you talk like that?” exclaimed Lawrence sharply, “when you have come on purpose to help me get strong again? Mr Preston, we shall stay here—shall we not?”

“Of course,” replied the professor. “The enjoyment of our trip depends upon our being staunch to one another.”

Mr Burne declared that it was absurd, and ridiculous, and nonsensical, and raked out a few other adjectives to give force to his sentiments, speaking in the most sour way possible; but it was very evident that he was highly pleased, and the steamer sailed without them.

The next day Mr Burne was so stiff that he could not walk about; but he refused to see a doctor, and a week passed before he could move without pain. Then one morning he declared that he was mending fast, and insisted upon inquiries being made respecting the sailing of the next steamer that would stop at one or other of the little towns on the south coast; but there was nothing bound in that direction, nor likely to be for another fortnight.

“And all my fault!” cried Mr Burne angrily. “Tut-tut-tut! Here, ring for the landlord.”

The landlord came and was questioned.

No, there was no possibility of a passage being made for quite a fortnight, unless the visitors would go in a small sailing boat belonging to one or the other of the trading crews.

The professor glanced at Lawrence, thought of the probable discomfort, and shook his head.

“The very thing!” exclaimed Mr Burne sharply.

“We can make trips in steamers at anytime; but a trip in a Greek felucca, with real Greek sailors, is what I have longed for all my life. Eh, Lawrence, what do you say?”

“I think with you, sir, that it would be delightful—that is, if you are well enough to go.”

“Well enough to go! of course I am. I’m longing to be off. Only a bit stiff. Look here, landlord, see what you can do for us. One moment, though; these Greeks—they will not rob us and throw us overboard—eh?”

“No fear, sir. I’ll see that you go by a boat manned by honest fellows who come regularly to the port. Leave it to me.”

The landlord departed and the question was discussed. The professor was ready enough to go in the manner proposed so long as Lawrence felt equal to the task, and this he declared he was; and certainly, imperceptibly as it had come about, there was an improvement in his appearance that was most hopeful.

The principal part of their luggage had gone on by steamer, and would be lying waiting for them at Ansina, a little port on the south coast which had been considered a suitable starting-point; and they had been suffering some inconvenience, buying just such few things as would do to make shift with till they overtook their portmanteaux.

Oddly enough, Mr Burne expressed the most concern about their new purchases, the weapons and ammunition, which had been sent on to the steamer by the landlord as soon as they arrived from the store.

“Such things must be so tempting to the people who see them,” said the old lawyer.

“But they were all carefully packed in cases,” said the professor. “They would not know what was inside.”

“Nonsense, my dear sir. We English folk would not have known, but a Greek or a Turk would. These people smell powder just like crows in a corn-field. I’m afraid that if we don’t make haste we shall find our things gone, and I wouldn’t lose that gun for any money.”

The landlord came back in about a couple of hours to say that he had had no success, but that it would become known that he had been inquiring, and an application might be made.

This turned out correct, for as the travellers were seated that evening over their dessert, enjoying by an open window the deliciously soft breeze, as Lawrence partook of the abundant grapes, and the professor puffed at a water-pipe—an example followed by Mr Burne, who diligently tried to like it, but always gave up in favour of a cigar at the end of a quarter of an hour—the waiter brought their coffee and announced that the master of a small vessel desired to see their excellencies.

The man was shown in, and proved to be a picturesque-looking fellow in a scarlet cap, which he snatched from his curly black hair and advanced into the room, saying some words in modern Greek whose import the professor made out; but his attempts to reply were too much for the skipper, who grew excited, shook his head, and finally rushed out of the room, to the great amusement of Mr Burne, who knocked the ash off the cigar he had recently lit.

“That’s what I always say,” he cried. “Book language is as different as can be from spoken language. I learned French for long enough when I was a boy, but I never could make a Frenchman understand what I meant.”

“Let’s ring and inquire,” said the professor, to hide a smile. “I hope we have not driven the fellow away.”

“Hope you have, you mean,” said Mr Burne.

The professor rose to reach the bell, but just then the landlord entered with the Greek sailor, who smiled and showed his white teeth.

With the landlord as interpreter the matter became easy. The man was going to sail in three days, that was as soon as the little vessel, in which he had brought a cargo of oranges and other fruit from Beyrout, had discharged her load and was ready to return. He was going to Larnaca on his return voyage, but for a consideration he was ready to take the English excellencies to any port they liked on the south coast—Ansina if they wished—and he would make them as comfortable as the boat would allow; but they must bring their own food and wine.

The bargain was soon struck, the Greek asking a sum which the landlord named to the professor—so many Turkish pounds.

“But is not that a heavy price for the accommodation we shall receive?”

“Yes,” said the landlord smiling. “I was going to suggest that you should offer him one-third of the amount.”

“Then we shall offend him and drive him away,” said Mr Burne.

“Oh, dear me! no, gentlemen. He does not expect to get what he asks, and the sum I name would be very fair payment. You leave the settlement in my hands.”

The professor acquiesced, and the landlord turned to the Greek sailor to offer him just one-third of the sum he had asked.

“I thought as much,” said the old lawyer. “The landlord thinks we’re in England, and that it was a bill of costs that he had to tax. Look at the Greek, Lawrence!”

The latter needed no telling, for he was already watching the sailor, who was protesting furiously. One moment his hands were raised, the next they were clenched downwards as if about to strike the floor. Again they were lifted menacingly, and there seemed danger, for one rested upon a knife in his belt, but only for it to be beaten furiously in the other. Quick angry words, delivered with the greatest volubility, followed; and then, turning and looking round in the most scornful manner, the man seemed to fire a volley of words at the whole party and rushed from the room.

“I’m sorry for this,” said the professor, “for we would have paid heavily sooner than wait longer.”

“Humph! Yes,” exclaimed Mr Burne. “Why not call the man back and offer him two-thirds of his price?”

“Because, sir,” replied the landlord, “it would have been giving him twice as much as would pay him well. Don’t you see, sir, that he is going back empty, and every piastre you pay him is great profit. Besides, I presume that you will take far more provisions than will suffice for your own use.”

“Naturally,” replied the professor.

“And this man and his little crew will reap the benefit?”

“But you have driven him away.”

“Oh dear, no, sir!” replied the landlord smiling. “He will be back to-night, or at the latest to-morrow morning, to seal the bargain.”

“Do you think so?” cried Lawrence, who looked terribly disappointed at this new delay.

“I am sure,” said the landlord laughing. “Here he is.”

For there was a quick step on the stair, the door was opened, and the swarthy face of the Greek was thrust in, the red cap snatched off, and, showing his white teeth in a broad smile, he came forward, nodding pleasantly to all in turn.

A few words passed, the bargain was made, and the tall lithe fellow strode out in high glee, it being understood that he was to well clean out the little cabin, and remove baskets and lumber forward so as to make the boat as comfortable as he could for his passengers; that he was to put in at any port they liked, or stop at any island they wished to see; and, moreover, he swore to defend them with his men against enemies of every kind, and to land them safely at Ansina, or suffer death in default.

This last was his own volunteered penalty, after which he darted back to say that their excellencies might bring a little tobacco for him and his men, if they liked, and that, in return, they might be sure of finding a plentiful supply of oranges, grapes, and melons for their use.

“Come, landlord,” said Mr Burne, “I think you have done wonders for us.”

“I have only kept you from being cheated, gentlemen,” was the reply. “These men generally ask three or four times as much as they mean to take.”

“And do the landlords?” said the professor drily.

“I hope not, sir,” was the reply. “But now, gentlemen, if you will allow me, I should like to offer you a bit of advice.”

“Pray, give it,” said the professor gravely.

“I will, sir. It is this. You are going into a very wild country, where in places you will not be able to help yourselves in spite of your firman. That will be sufficient to get you everything where the law is held in anything like respect, but you will find yourselves in places where the rude, ignorant peasants will look upon you as Christian dogs, and will see you starve or die of exposure before they will give or even sell you food for yourselves or horses.”

“Mighty pleasant set of barbarians to go amongst, I must say!” cried Mr Burne.

“I am telling you the simple truth, gentlemen. You will find no hotels or inns, only the resting-places—the khans—and often enough you will be away from them.”

“He is quite right,” said the professor calmly. “I was aware that we should sometimes have to encounter these troubles.”

“Humph! ’Pon my word!” grumbled Mr Burne. “Look here, Lawrence, let’s go back.”

“What for?” cried the lad flushing. “Oh, no! we must go on.”

The professor glanced at him quickly, and smiled in his calm grave way before turning to the landlord.

“You have not given us your advice,” he said.

“It is very simple, gentlemen, and it is this: Take with you a man who knows the country well, who can act as guide, and from his frequent travels there can speak two or three languages—a faithful trusty fellow who will watch over you, guard you from extortion, and be ready to fight, if needs be, or force the people he comes among to give you or sell you what you need.”

“Oh! but are they such savages as this—so near to the more civilised places of the East?”

“Quite, sir,” replied the landlord.

“And where is this pearl among men to be found?” said the professor with a slight sneer. “Do you know such a one?”

“Yes, sir; he only returned from a journey yesterday. I happened to see him this morning, and thought directly of you.”

“Would he go with us?” said the old lawyer quickly.

“I cannot say for certain,” was the reply; “but if you will give me leave I will see him and sound him upon the subject.”

“Humph!” from the old lawyer.

“He has just been paid, and would no doubt like to stay and rest here a little while, but I daresay I could prevail upon him to go with you if he saw you first.”

“Then he is to be the master, not we?”

“Well, gentlemen, I don’t say that,” said the landlord smiling; “but people out here are very different to what they are at home. I have learned by bitter experience how independent they can be, and how strong their natural dislike is to Christians.”

“This man is not a Christian, then?”

“Oh, no, sir! a Muslim, a thorough-going Turk.”

“He will not carry his religious feelings to the pitch of pushing us over some precipice in the mountains, eh? and then come home thinking he has done a good work, eh, Mr Landlord?” said the old lawyer.

“Oh, no! I’ll answer for his integrity, sir. If he engages to go with you, have no hesitation in trusting him with your baggage, your arms, your purses if you like. If he undertakes to be your guide, he will lose his life sooner than see you robbed of a single piastre.”

“And what will he require?” said Mr Burne shortly; “what pay?”

“Very moderate, gentlemen, and I promise you this, that if I can persuade him to go with you, the cost of paying him will be saved out of your expenses. I mean that you will spend less with him than you would without.”

“And he knows something of the country?”

“A great deal, gentlemen. Shall I see if I can get him to go?”

“By all means,” cried the two elders in a breath.

“If he consents I will bring him to you. I beg pardon, I am wrong. I must bring him to see you first before he will consent.”

“Then, as I said before, he is to be the master, not we,” said the professor.

“No, no, sir, you must not take it like that. The man is independent, and need not undertake this journey without he likes. Is it surprising, then, that if he should come and see you, and not liking your appearance, or the prospect of being comfortable in your service, he should decline to go?”

“You are quite right,” said Mr Burne. “I would not.”