Admiral Lyons was very kind to the young midshipman, and insisted upon his giving him an account in full of all his adventures. He confirmed Captain Hethcote’s opinion as to Jack’s movements, by saying, as he bade him good-bye, that in the morning he would receive a written order to go up to the front and to report himself to the officer in command of the naval brigade there.
The next morning, being that of the 5th June, Jack received his order, and an hour later he started for the front, with two sailors to carry his baggage. He was astonished at the change which had been wrought at Balaklava. A perfect town of wooden huts had sprung up. The principal portion of these was devoted to the general hospital, the others were crammed with stores. The greater part of the old Tartar village had been completely cleared away, the streets and roads were levelled, and in good order.
Such troops as were about had received new uniforms, and looked clean and tidy. Everywhere gangs of laborers were at work, and the whole place wore a bright and cheerful aspect. Just outside the town an engine with a number of laden wagons was upon the point of starting. The sun was blazing fiercely down, and at the suggestion of one of the sailors, who, though ready enough for a spree on shore, were viewing with some apprehension the prospect of the long trudge along the dusty road to Sebastopol, Jack asked the officer in charge of the train for permission to ride up. This was at once granted, and Jack, his trunk and the sailors, were soon perched on the top of a truck-load of barrels of salt pork.
Jack could scarcely believe that the place was the same which he had last seen, just when winter was setting in. A large village had grown up near the mouth of the valley, wooden huts for the numerous gangs of navvies and laborers stood by the side of the railway. Officers trotted past on ponies, numbers of soldiers, English, French, Turkish, and Sardinian, trudged along the road on their way to or from Balaklava. The wide plain across which our cavalry had charged was bright with flowers, and dotted with the tents of the Turks and Sardinians. Nature wore a holiday aspect. Every one seemed cheerful and in high spirits, and it needed the dull boom of the guns around Sebastopol to recall the fact that the work upon which they were engaged was one of grim earnest.
Upon arriving at the camp, Jack found that its aspect was not less changed than that of the surrounding country. Many of the regiments were already in huts. The roads and the streets between the tents were scrupulously clean and neat, and before many of the officers’ tents, clumps of flowers brought up from the plain had been planted. The railway was not yet completed quite to the front, and the last two miles had to be traversed on foot.
Upon presenting his written orders to the officer in command of the naval brigade, Jack was at once told off to a tent with two other midshipmen, and was told that he would not, for the present, be placed upon regular duty, but that he would be employed as aide-de-camp to the commander, and as interpreter, should his services in that way be required.