Chapter 9 | Yussuf is Suspicious | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Nine.

Lawrence watched anxiously for the arrival of the new guide Yussuf on the day appointed for sailing. There had been one more disappointment, the Greek having declared that he must have another day before he would be ready, but there was no further delay.

Yussuf came to say that he had examined the boat, that it was good, seaworthy, and well manned by a stout little crew of sailors, but that he was very much dissatisfied with the accommodation prepared for the gentlemen.

He had not been told to report upon this matter, and his evident quiet eagerness to serve his employers well was satisfactory.

“We expect to rough it,” said the professor. “It will not be for long.”

Yussuf shrugged his shoulders, and said as he looked hard at Lawrence:

“It may be long, effendi. The winds perhaps light, and there are storms.”

“I am afraid we must risk these troubles; and besides, it is a coasting trip, and we should be able to run into some port.”

Yussuf bowed.

“I thought it my duty to tell his excellency of the state of the boat,” he said; and then, in an earnest busy way, he asked about the baggage to go on board, and provisions, promising to bring up a couple of the Greek sailors to carry down what was necessary.

In the course of the afternoon this was done, the consul visited and parted from in the most friendly manner, Lawrence’s eyes brightening as the official rested his hand upon his shoulder, and declared in all sincerity that he could see an improvement in him already.

The landlord endorsed this remark too on parting, and he as well as the consul assured the little party that, if anything could be done to help them, a message would receive the most earnest attention.

“You think we shall get into trouble, then?” Lawrence ventured to say, but shrank back directly he had spoken, with his cheeks flushed and heart beating, for his long illness had made him effeminate.

“I think it possible,” said the landlord smiling; “but I sincerely hope you will not. In fact, with a man like Yussuf your risks are greatly reduced. Good-bye, gentlemen, and I shall look forward to seeing you again on your way back.”

“Bravo, Lawrence!” cried the professor, clapping him on the shoulder. “I had been thinking the same thing; now I am sure of it.”

“I don’t understand you,” said the lad wiping his face, for the perspiration was standing in a fine dew all over his brow.

“Why, both Mr Thompson and the landlord here said that you were better, and you have just shown me that you are.”

“How, Mr Preston?” said the lad bashfully.

“By the way in which you just now spoke out, my boy,” said Mr Burne, joining in. “Why, you couldn’t have spoken like that before we started. You are not much better now; but when we settled to come on this trip you were as weak and bashful as a delicate girl. Preston, we shall make a man of him after all.”

They were walking towards the landing-place nearest to where the Greek’s boat lay, and further conversation was stayed by Yussuf coming to them.

“The boatman will not believe, excellencies,” he said, “that there is no more luggage. Have I got all?”

“Yes; all our luggage went on by the steamer to Ansina.”

Yussuf bowed and went back to the landing-place, where a small boat manned by the Greek and one of his men was in waiting, and in the travellers’ presence Yussuf explained about their belongings.

The Greek listened with rather a moody expression, but said no more; and in a very short time the little party were pulled to the side of a long light craft, about the burden of a large west country fishing lugger, but longer, more graceful in shape, and with the fore-part pretty well cumbered with baskets, which exhaled the familiar ether-like odour of oranges.

The accommodation was very spare, but, as the weather was deliciously fine, there was little hardship in roughing it in the open—provision being made for the invalid to stay in shelter as much as he liked.

They began to find the value of their guide at once, for he eagerly set to work to find them seats by improvising places in the stern; showing how he had arranged the provisions and fresh water, and offering Lawrence some ripe grapes as he made him comfortable where he would be out of the way of the men hoisting sail, and getting clear of the many boats lying at hand. First one and then the other long tapering sail was hoisted, each looking like the wing of a swallow continued to a point, as it stretched out to the tip of the curved and tapering spar; and as these filled the light vessel careened over, and began to glide swiftly through the bright blue sea.

After lending some help the Greek skipper went behind his passengers to the helm, his crew of three swarthy-looking fellows, each with his knife in his belt, threw themselves down amongst the baskets forward, and as the passengers stood or sat watching the glorious panorama of town, coast, and shipping they were passing, Yussuf calmly shook his loose garment about him, squatted down beside the low bulwark, and lighting a water-pipe began to smoke with his eyes half closed, and as if there was nothing more to trouble about in life.

“’Pon my word!” said the old lawyer. “What a place this boat seems to be for practising the art of doing nothing comfortably!”

“Yes,” said the professor, taking in the scene on board at a glance. “It is typical of the East. You must get westward to see men toiling constantly like ants. The word business does not belong to these lands.”

“You are right,” said Mr Burne.

“Well, it is the custom of the country,” continued the professor, “and while we have no hard travel to do, let us follow these people’s example, and watch and think.”

“There is no room to do anything else,” said Mr Burne grumpily.

“How delicious!” said Lawrence as if to himself.

“What, those grapes!” said the professor smiling.

“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Lawrence, starting and flushing again like a girl. “No: I meant sitting back here, and feeling this beautiful soft breeze as we glide through the blue sea.”

“You like it then?” said Mr Burne smiling.

“Oh, yes! I don’t know when I felt so well and happy. It is delightful.”

“That’s right,” cried Mr Burne. “Come, now; we must throw the invalid overboard.”

Lawrence laughed.

“I mean the disease,” said Mr Burne. “No more talking about being ill.”

“No,” said Lawrence quietly, and speaking as if he felt every word he uttered to be true; “I feel now as if I were growing better every hour.”

“And so you are,” cried the professor. “Come, don’t think about yourself, but set to work and take photographs.”

“Nonsense!” cried Mr Burne; “let the boy be, now he is comfortable. Photographs indeed! Where’s your tackle?”

“I mean mental photographs,” said the professor laughing.

“Then, why didn’t you say so, man? Good gracious me, if we lawyers were to write down one thing when we mean another, a pretty state of affairs we should have. The world would be all lawsuits. Humph; who’d think that Smyrna was such a dirty, shabby place, to look at it from here?”

“A lovely scene certainly!” said the professor. “Look, Lawrence, how well the mountain stands out above the town.”

“Humph, yes; it’s very pretty,” said the lawyer; “but give me Gray’s Inn with its plane-trees, or snug little Thavies’ Inn. This place is a sham.”

“But it is very beautiful seen from here, Mr Burne,” said Lawrence, who was feasting on the glorious sunlit prospect.

“Paint and varnish, sir, over rotten wood,” snorted Mr Burne. “Look at the drainage; look at the plagues and fevers and choleras they get here.”

“Yes,” said the professor, “at times.”

“Bah! very pretty, of course, but nothing like London.”

“With its smoke,” said the professor.

“Fine healthy thing, sir,” cried the old gentleman. “Magnificent city, London!”

“And its darkness and fogs,” said Lawrence.

“Well, who minds a bit of fog, so long as he is well?” cried Mr Burne. “Look here, young man; don’t you find fault with your own land. Stick up for it through thick and thin.”

“For all of it that is good, my lad,” said the professor merrily, “but don’t uphold the bad.”

“Bad, sir! There’s precious little that’s bad in London. If you want to go a few hundred miles there, you can go at any time and get good accommodation. Not be forced to ride in a market-boat with hard seats. Bless me, they are making my back bad again.”

“Oh, but, Mr Burne, look, look, the place here is lovely!”

“Oh, yes, lovely enough, but, as the fellow said, it isn’t fit to live in long; it’s dangerous to be safe.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earthquakes, sir. If you take a house in London, you know where you are. If you take one here, as the fellow said, where are you? To-day all right, to-morrow shaken down by an earthquake shock, or swallowed up.”

“There are risks everywhere,” said the professor, who seemed to be gradually throwing off his dreamy manner, and growing brighter and more active, just as if he had been suffering from a disease of the mind as Lawrence had of the body.

“Risks? Humph! yes, some; but by the time we’ve finished our trip, you’ll all be ready to say, There’s no place like home.”

“Granted,” said the professor.

“Why, you’re not tired of the journey already, Mr Burne?”

“Tired? No, my boy,” cried the old man smiling. “I’m in a bad temper to-day, that’s all. This seat is terribly hard and—oh, I know what’s the matter. I’m horribly hungry.”

He turned his head to see that Yussuf had finished and put away his pipe, and was busy over one of the baskets of provisions, from which he produced a cloth and knives and forks, with a bottle of wine and several other necessaries, which his forethought had suggested; and in a short time the travellers were enjoying a rough but most palatable al fresco meal in the delicious evening, with the distant land glowing with light of a glorious orange, and the deep blue sea dappled with orange and gold.

“We have plenty of provisions, I suppose,” said the professor.

“Yes, effendi, plenty,” said Yussuf, who had been taking his portion aside.

“Then pass what is left here to the skipper and his men.”

Yussuf bowed gravely, and the men, who had been making an evening meal of blackish bread and melons, were soon chattering away forward, eating the remains of the meal and drinking a bottle of the Greek wine Lawrence took them.

The tiller had been lashed so as to set the Greek skipper at liberty, and the travellers were alone, while, wearied by his extra exertion, Lawrence lay back, apparently fast asleep, when Yussuf approached the professor and his companion, with his water-pipe which he was filling with tobacco, and about which and with a light, he busied himself in the most matter-of-fact manner.

But Yussuf was thinking of something else beside smoke, for he startled the professor and made Mr Burne jump and drop his cigar, as he said in a low voice:

“Your excellencies are well-armed, of course?”

“Armed?” exclaimed the professor.

Yussuf did not speak, but stooped to pick up the fallen cigar, which he handed to its owner.

“Be calm, excellency,” he said smiling, “and tell me.”

The professor looked at him suspiciously; but there was that in the man’s countenance that disarmed him, and he said quietly: “We certainly have plenty of arms.”

“That is good,” said Yussuf, with a flash of the eye.

“But our weapons are packed up with our luggage, and went on by the steamer.”

“That is bad,” said Yussuf quietly.

“We never thought they would be necessary till we got ashore.”

“Look here, my man,” said Mr Burne; “speak out. Are you suspicious of these people?”

“My life has taught me to be suspicious, effendi,” said Yussuf, lighting his pipe, “particularly of the low-class Greeks. They are not honest.”

“But surely,” began the professor.

“Be perfectly calm, effendi,” said Yussuf, pointing shoreward, and waving his hand as if telling the name of some place. “I have nothing certain against this Greek and his men; but we are out at sea and at their mercy.”

“But something has happened to make you speak like this,” said Mr Burne with a searching look.

“A trifle, effendi,” replied the Muslim; “but a little cloud like that yonder,”—pointing seaward now beyond the Greek sailors, so that the travellers could see that they were watched by the skipper—“is sometimes the sign of a coming storm.”

“Then what have you seen?” said Mr Burne suspiciously.

“A trifle—almost nothing, effendi, only that the man there was out of temper when he found that all your baggage had gone.”

“Humph!” ejaculated Mr Burne. “Then you think there is danger?” said the professor.

“I do not say that,” said Yussuf, pointing shoreward again, “but your excellencies may as well learn your lessons at once. We are commencing our journey, and are now, as we generally shall be, at the mercy of men who obey the laws when they feel the rod over their backs, but who, when they cannot see the rod, laugh at them.”

“What do you ask us to do, then?” said the professor quickly.

“Be always on guard, but never show it. Be prepared for danger. If there is none, so much the better. Life here is a little matter compared to what I am told it is among you Franks, and it becomes every man’s duty to guard his life.”

“But these Greek sailors?” said Mr Burne sharply.

“I do not trust them,” replied Yussuf calmly. “If we are the stronger they will be our slaves. If they feel that they are, our lives would not be safe if they had the chance to rob us. They believe your excellencies to be rich and to have much gold.”

“Look here, Yussuf,” said Mr Burne uneasily, “our friend ashore gave you a capital character.”

“I have eaten salt with your excellencies, and my life is yours,” replied Yussuf.

“Then what would you do now?”

“Be perfectly calm, effendi, and treat these men if you did not know fear.”

“And we have no arms,” said Mr Burne uneasily.

“Can your excellency fight?” said Yussuf quietly.

“A law case—yes, with any man, but any other case of fighting—good gracious me, no. I have not fought since I had a black eye at school.”

“But you can, effendi?” continued Yussuf, looking with admiration at the professor’s broad chest and long muscular arms.

“I daresay I can, if I am driven to it,” replied the professor gravely; and he involuntarily clenched a large, hard, bony hand.

“Yes,” said Yussuf, with a grave smile of satisfaction. “Your excellency can fight, I see.”

“But we are entirely without arms,” repeated Mr Burne excitedly.

“Not quite,” replied Yussuf calmly. “Your excellency has a big stick; the effendi here has hands and strength that would enable him to throw an enemy into the sea, and I never go a journey without my pistol and a knife.”

“You have a pistol?” said Mr Burne eagerly.

“Be quite calm, excellency,” said Yussuf, laughing as he smoked, and bowing down as if something droll had been said. “Yes, I have a pistol of many barrels given to me by a Frankish effendi when we returned from a journey through the land of Abraham, and then down to the stony city in the desert—Petra, where the Arab sheiks are fierce and ready to rob all who are not armed and strong.”

“Where is it?” said the professor.

“Safe in my bosom, effendi, where my hand can touch it ere you blink an eye. So you see that we are not quite without arms. But listen,” he continued; “this may be all a fancy of mine.”

“Then you will do nothing?” exclaimed Mr Burne.

“Oh no, I do not say that, effendi. We must be watchful. Two must sleep, and two must watch night or day. The enemy must not come to the gate and find it open ready for him to enter in.”

“Those are the words of wisdom,” said the professor gravely, and Yussuf’s eyes brightened and he bowed.

“This watchfulness,” he said, “may keep the enemy away if there be one. If there be none: well, we have taught ourselves a lesson that will not be thrown away.”

“Why, Yussuf, I am beginning to think you are a treasure!” exclaimed Mr Burne.

Yussuf bowed, but he did not look pleased, for he had not warmed towards the old lawyer in the slightest degree. He had been met with distrust, and he was reserved towards him who showed his doubt so openly.

“I thought it was but just, effendis, to warn you, and I thought it better to say so now, while the young effendi is asleep, for fear he might be alarmed.”

“I am not asleep,” said Lawrence turning his head. “I have not been to sleep.”

“Then you have heard all that was said,” exclaimed the professor.

“Every word, Mr Preston. I could not help hearing,” said Lawrence, sitting up with his face flushed and eyes brightened. “I did not know till just now that I was not expected to hear.”

“Humph, and do you feel alarmed?” said the old lawyer.

“I don’t think I do, sir,” replied the lad calmly. “Perhaps I should if—if there should be a fight.”

“I do not think there will be,” said the professor quietly. “Yussuf here has warned us, and forewarned is forearmed.”

“Even if we have no pistols, eh?” said Mr Burne laughing, but rather acidly. “Humph, here comes the skipper.”

The Greek came aft smiling and unlashed the tiller, altering their course a little, so that as the evening breeze freshened they seemed literally to skim along the surface of the sea.