Chapter 4 | A Verbal Skirmish | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter Four.

It seemed wonderful: one day in London, then the luggage all ticketed, the young invalid carefully carried by a couple of porters to a first-class carriage, and seated in a snug corner, when one of them touched his cap and exclaimed:

“Glad to see you come back, sir, strong enough to carry me. Pore young chap!” he said to his mate; “it do seem hard at his time o’ life.”

“Hang the fellow!” cried the lawyer; “so it does at any time of life. I don’t want to be carried by a couple of porters.”

Then there was a quick run down to Folkestone, with the patient tenderly watched by his two companions, the professor looking less eccentric in costume, for he had trusted to his tailor to make him some suitable clothing; but the lawyer looking more so, for he had insisted upon retaining his everyday-life black frock-coat and check trousers, the only change he had made being the adoption of a large leghorn straw hat with a black ribbon; on the whole as unsuitable a costume as he could have adopted for so long a journey.

“But I’ve got a couple of Holland blouses in one of my portmanteaus,” he said to Lawrence, “and these I shall wear when we get into a hotter country.”

At Folkestone, Lawrence showed no fatigue; on the contrary, when the professor suggested staying there for the night he looked disappointed, and begged that they might cross to Boulogne, as he was so anxious to see France.

Judging that it was as well not to disappoint him, and certainly advisable to take advantage of a lovely day with a pleasant breeze for the crossing, the professor decided to proceed—after a short conversation between the two elders, when a little distant feeling was removed, for the professor had felt that the lawyer was not going to turn out a very pleasant travelling companion.

“What do you think, sir?” he had said to the fierce-looking little man, who kept on attracting attention by violently blowing his nose.

“I’ll tell you what I think, professor,” was the reply. “It seems to me that the boy is a little sore and upset with his parting from his old nurse. Milk-soppish, but natural to one in his state. He wants to get right away, so as to forget the trouble in new impressions. Then, as you see, the journey so far has not hurt him, and he feels well enough to go on. Sign, sir, that nature says he is strong enough, so don’t thwart him. Seems to me, sir—snuff, snuff, snuff—that the way to do him good is to let him have his own way, so long as he doesn’t want to do anything silly. Forward!”

So they went forward, a couple of the steamer’s men lifting Lawrence carefully along the gangway and settling him in a comfortable part of the deck, which he preferred to going below; and ten minutes later the machinery made the boat quiver, the pier seemed to be running away, and the professor said quietly: “Good-bye to England.”

The sea proved to be more rough than it had seemed from the pier, and, out of about seventy passengers, it was not long before quite sixty had gone below, leaving the deck very clear; and the professor, who kept walking up and down, while the lawyer occupied a seat near Lawrence, kept watching the invalid narrowly.

But there was no sign of illness. The lad looked terribly weak and delicate, but his eyes were bright, and the red spots on his cheeks were unchanged.

“I say, Preston,” said the lawyer, when they had been to sea about a quarter of an hour, “you look very pale: if you’d like to go below I’ll stay with him.”

“Thanks, no,” was the reply; “I prefer the deck. How beautiful the chalky coast looks, Lawrence!”

“Yes, lovely,” was the reply; “but I was trying to look forward to see France. I want to see health. Looking back seems like being ill.”

The professor nodded, and said that the French coast would soon be very plain, and he stalked up and down, a magnificent specimen of humanity, with his great beard blown about by the wind, which sought in vain to play with his closely-cut hair.

“I’m sure you had better go below, professor. You look quite white,” said the lawyer again; but Mr Preston laughed.

“I am quite well,” he said; and he took another turn up and down to look at the silvery foam churned up by the beating paddles.

“Look here!” cried the lawyer again, as the professor came and stood talking to Lawrence; “had you not better go down?”

“No. Why go down to a cabin full of sick people, when I am enjoying the fresh air, and am quite well?”

“But are you really quite well?”

“Never better in my life.”

“Then it’s too bad, sir,” cried the lawyer. “I’ve been waiting to see you give up, and if you will not, I must, for there’s something wrong with this boat.”

“Nonsense! One of the best boats on the line.”

“Then, there’s something wrong with me. I can’t enjoy my snuff, and it’s all nonsense for this boy to be called an invalid. I’m the invalid, sir, and I am horribly ill. Help me below, there’s a good fellow.”

Mr Burne looked so deplorably miserable, and at the same time so comic, that it was impossible to avoid smiling, and as he saw this he stamped his foot.

“Laughing at me, eh? Both of you. Now, look here. I know you both feel so poorly that you don’t know what to do, and I’ll stop up on deck and watch you out of spite.”

“Nonsense! I could not help smiling,” said the professor good-humouredly. “Let me help you down.”

“Thank you, no,” said the lawyer taking off his hat to wipe his moist brow, and then putting it on again, wrong way first. “I’m going to stop on deck, sir—to stop on deck.”

He seemed to be making a tremendous effort to master the qualmish feeling that had attacked him, and in this case determination won.

A night at Boulogne, and at breakfast-time next morning Lawrence seemed no worse for the journey, so they went on at once to Paris, where a day’s rest was considered advisable, and then, the preliminaries having been arranged, the train was entered once more, and after two or three stoppages to avoid over-wearying the patient, Trieste was reached, where a couple of days had to be passed before the arrival of the steamer which was to take them to Smyrna, and perhaps farther, though the professor was of opinion that it might be wise to make that the starting-place for the interior.

But when the steamer arrived a delay of five days more ensued before a start was made; and all this time the invalid’s companions watched him anxiously.

It was in these early days a difficult thing to decide, and several times over the professor and Mr Burne nearly came to an open rupture—one sufficiently serious to spoil the prospects of future friendly feeling.

But these little tiffs always took place unknown to Lawrence, who remained in happy ignorance of what was going on.

The disagreements generally happened something after this fashion.

Lawrence would be seated in one of the verandahs of the hotel enjoying the soft warm sea-breeze, and gazing out at the scene glowing in all the brightness of a southern sun, when the old lawyer would approach the table where, out of the lad’s sight and hearing, the professor was seated writing.

The first notice the latter had of his fellow-traveller’s approach would be the loud snapping of the snuff-box, which was invariably followed by a loud snuffling noise, and perhaps by a stentorian blast. Then the lawyer would lean his hand upon the table where the professor was writing with:

“Really, my dear sir, you might put away your pens and ink for a bit. I’ve left mine behind. Here, I want to talk to you.”

The professor politely put down his pen, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.

“Hah! that’s better,” said Mr Burne. “Now we can talk. I wanted to speak to you about that boy.”

“I am all attention,” said the professor.

“Well, sir, there’s a good German physician here as well as the English one. Don’t you think we ought to call both in, and let them have a consultation?”

“What about?” said the professor calmly.

“About, sir? Why, re Lawrence.”

“But he seems certainly better, and we have Doctor Snorter’s remedies if anything is necessary.”

“Better, sir? decidedly worse. I have been watching him this morning, and he is distinctly more feeble.”

“Why, my dear Mr Burne, he took my arm half an hour ago, and walked up and down that verandah without seeming in the least distressed.”

“Absurd, sir!”

“But I assure you—”

“Tut, tut, sir! don’t tell me. I watch that boy as I would an important case in a court of law. Nothing escapes me, and I say he is much worse.”

“Really, I should be sorry to contradict you, Mr Burne,” replied the professor calmly; “but to me it seems as if this air agreed with him, and I should have said that, short as the time has been since he left home, he is better.”

“Worse, sir, worse decidedly.”

“Really, Mr Burne, I am sorry to differ from you,” replied the professor stiffly; “but I must say that Lawrence is, to my way of thinking, decidedly improved.”

“Pah! Tchah! Absurd!” cried the lawyer; and he went off blowing his nose.

Another day he met the professor, who had just left Lawrence’s side after sitting and talking with him for some time, and there was an anxious, care-worn look in his eyes that impressed the sharp lawyer at once.

“Hallo!” he exclaimed; “what’s the matter?”

The professor shook his head.

“Lawrence,” he said sadly.

“Eh? Bless me! You don’t say so,” cried Mr Burne; and he hurried out into the verandah, which was the lad’s favourite place.

There Mr Burne stayed for about a quarter of an hour, and then went straight to where the professor was writing a low-spirited letter to Mrs Dunn, in which he had said that he regretted bringing Lawrence right away into those distant regions, for though Trieste was a large port, and there was plenty of medical attendance to be obtained, it was not like being at home.

“I say! Look here!” cried Mr Burne, “you ought to know better, you know.”

“I do not understand you,” replied the professor quietly.

“Crying wolf, you know. It’s too bad.”

“Really,” said the professor, who was in one of his dreamy, abstracted moods, “you are mistaken, Mr Burne. I did not say a word about a wolf.”

“Well, whoever said you did, man?” cried the lawyer impatiently as he took out his snuff-box and whisked forth a pinch, flourishing some of the fine dry dust about where he stood. “Can’t you, a university man, understand metaphors—shepherd boy calling wolf when there was nothing the matter? The patient’s decidedly better, sir.”

“Really, Mr Burne—ertchishewertchishew!”

Old Mr Burne stood looking on, smiling grimly, as the professor had a violent fit of sneezing, and in mocking tones held out his snuff-box and said:

“Have a good pinch? Stop the sneezing. Ah! that’s better,” he added, as the professor finished off with a tremendous burst. “Your head will be clear now, and you can understand what I say. That boy’s getting well.”

“I wish I could think so,” said the professor, sniffing so very quietly that, as if to give him a lesson, his companion blew off one of his blasts, with the result that a waiter hurried into the room to see what was wrong.

“Think? there is no occasion to think so. He is mending fast, sir; and if you have any doubt about it, and cannot trust in the opinion of a man of the world, go and watch him, and see how interested he seems in all that is going on. Why, a fortnight ago he lay back in his chair dreaming and thinking of nothing but himself. Now he is beginning to forget that there is such a person. He’s better, sir, better.”

The fact was that the lawyer was right, and so was the professor, for at that time Lawrence was as changeable of aspect as an April day, and his friends could only judge him by that which he wore when they went to his side.

At last the morning came when the steamer started for Smyrna, and the pair were for once in a way agreed. They had been breakfasting with Lawrence, noting his looks, his appetite, listening to every word, and at last, when he rose feebly, and went out into the verandah to gaze down at the busy crowd of mingled European and Eastern people, whose dress and habits seemed never tiring to the lad, the lawyer turned to the professor and exclaimed:

“You did not say a word to him about sailing to-day.”

“No. Neither did you.”

“Well, why didn’t you?”

“Because I thought that it seemed useless, and that we had better stay.”

“Well, I don’t often agree with you, professor, but I must say that I do to-day. The boy is not equal to it. But he is better.”

“Ye–es,” said the professor. “I think he is better.”

Just then Lawrence returned from the verandah, looking flushed and excited.

“Why, the Smyrna boat sails to-day, Mr Preston,” he exclaimed. “One of the waiters has just told me. Hadn’t we better get ready at once?”

“Get ready?” said the professor kindly. “We thought that perhaps we had better wait for the next boat.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Lawrence, with his countenance changing. “I shall be so disappointed. I felt so much better too, and I’ve been longing to see some of the Grecian isles.”

“Do you really feel yourself equal to the journey, my dear boy?” said the professor.

“Oh yes. I don’t know when I have felt so well,” said Lawrence eagerly.

“Bless my soul!” cried the old lawyer, opening and shutting his snuff-box as if for the purpose of hearing it snap, and sending the fine dust flying, “what a young impostor you are! Here, let’s get our bill paid, and our traps on board. There’s no time to spare.”

Lawrence’s face brightened again, and he left the room.

“Tell you what, professor,” said Mr Burne, “you and I have been ready to quarrel several times over about what we do not understand. Now, look here. I want to enjoy this trip. What do you say to burying the hatchet?”

“Burying the hatchet? Oh! I see. Let there be peace.”

“To be sure,” cried the lawyer, shaking hands warmly, “and we’ll keep the fighting for all the Greeks, Turks, brigands, and the like who interfere with us.”

“With all my heart,” said the professor smiling; but Mr Burne still lingered as if he had something to say.

“Fact is,” he exclaimed at last, “I’m a curious crotchety sort of fellow. Had too much law, and got coated over with it; but I’m not bad inside when you come to know me.”

“I’m sure you are not, Burne,” said the professor warmly; “and if you come to that, I have spent so many years dealing with dead authors, and digging up musty legends, that I am abstracted and dreamy. I do not understand my fellow-men as I should, but really I esteem you very highly for the deep interest you take in Lawrence.”

“That’s why I esteem you, sir,” said the lawyer; “and—no, I won’t take any more snuff now; it makes you sneeze. There, be off, and get ready while I pay the bills.”

That evening, in the golden glow of the setting sun, they set sail for Smyrna.