“That would have been the best way, sir, had it not been for those poor beggars having been killed up above there; for in our naval dress we could not have hoped to have escaped. As it is, if we have any luck, we shall soon be back at Balaklava again.”
A FORTUNATE STORM
The fog seemed to get thicker and thicker as the day went on. At nightfall, when it became evident that no move could be made before morning, they gave a biscuit to each of their ponies, cut some grass and laid it before them, and then, wrapping themselves in the Cossack cloaks to keep off the damp fog, were soon asleep. At day-break the fog was still thick, but as the sun rose it gradually dispersed it, and they were shortly able to see up the valley. They found that in their wandering in the mist they must have moved partly in a circle, for they were still little more than a quarter of a mile from the point where they had left it to ascend to the chateau. Round this they could see many soldiers moving about. Looking up the valley, they perceived lines of horses, picqueted by a village but a few hundred yards away.
“Those were the voices I thought I heard, no doubt, when we first came here,” Jack said. “It’s lucky we found these trees, for if we had wandered about a little longer, we might have stumbled into the middle of them. Now, sir, we had better finish the biscuits we put aside for breakfast, and be off. It is quite evident the direct way to the camp is close to us.”
Saddling up their horses, and putting on the Cossack black sheepskin caps and long coats, and taking the lances and carbines, the latter of which were carried across the saddle before them, they mounted their ponies and rode off, quitting the wood at such a point that it formed a screen between them and the cavalry in the distance, until they had gone well down the valley. They were unnoticed, or at any rate, unchallenged by the party at the chateau, and, issuing from the valley, rode out into the open country.
Far out in the plain they saw several Russians moving about, and judged that these were occupied in searching those who had fallen in the cavalry fight of the preceding day. They did not approach them, but turning to the right, trotted briskly along, skirting the foot of the hills. They passed through two or three Tartar villages whose inhabitants scarcely glanced at them, so accustomed were they to the sight of small parties of Cossacks riding hither and thither.
In one, which stood just at the mouth of the valley which they had determined to enter, as a road running up it seemed to indicate that it led to some place, perhaps upon the sea-shore, they found several Russian soldiers loitering about. Lieutenant Myers would have checked his pony, but Jack rode unhesitatingly forward. An officer came out of one of the cottages.
“Any news?” he asked.